The Stool Pigeon


The Stool Pigeon

[Sin yan]

Written by Dante Lam & Jack Ng

Director of Photography: Kenny Tse

Sound Design: Kinson Tang

Editing: Chan Hoi-Yan

Original Music: Henry Lai

Produced by Candy Leung, Zhang Dajun & Ren Yue

Directed by Dante Lam



Nick Cheung

Nicholas Tse

Kwai Lun-Mei

Liu Kai-Chi

Miao Pu

Lu Yi

Production Studio:

Theatrical: Emperor Motion Pictures & Visual Capture Ltd.

Video: Well Go (USA)


Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size:  BD25

Feature Size: ca. 19.3 GB

Bit Rate: Low (15-25 Mbps)

Runtime: 112 minutes

Chapters: 19


Cantonese DTS-HD MA 5.1

Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

English Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: English


• Interviews with Dante Lam & Cast Members - in SD (15:10)

• Behind the Scenes - in SD (subtitled) (46:35)

• 5 Deleted Scenes - in SD (11:05)

• Well Go Trailers in HD


Amaray Blu-ray Case: BRD x 1

Street Date: September 27, 2011

Synopsis [Well Go]:

THE STOOL PIGEON examines the fine line between cops and their undercover informants. Police Detective Don Lee (Nick Leung) makes a bad call, causing a close informant to be injured. A year later, he must locate a new man to go undercover inside a jewel-theft ring. Ghost, Jr. (Nicholas Tse) doesn't want to do it, but Lee can offer deals and apply pressure that makes it hard to say no. Lee makes decisions based on the progress of his case, but not always at the benefit of his informant. Ghost must play a role, but can't decline the chance to do what's right. Best actor Nick Cheung, Nicholas Tse and Director Dante Lam renew the successful collaboration that brought audiences the multiple award-winner The Beast Stalker.

Hong Kong Film Awards:

Nominated for Best Film, Director, Screenplay, Actors (Nick Cheung & Nicholas Tse), Supporting Actor (Liu Kai Chi), Editing & Sound Design.


Critical Reaction:

Beyond Hollywood:

“The Stool Pigeon” is a bit overlong, and bogs down in the middle with superfluous subplots, not to mention a dour, melancholy tone that can be oppressive at times. The story is nothing terribly original, but the film is a solid crime yarn full of double crosses, betrayals, and themes of loyalty and redemption. Everything pays off in a twisted, violent, and mean-spirited climax, where things go from bad, to worse, to so bad that there isn’t really a word to describe how fucked everything is. - Brent McKnight

Time Out Hong Kong:

So you’ve been thrilled by a Dante Lam action flick in which a crime syndicate is shattered by greed, a cop’s wife is pathetically victimised, and a guilt-consumed protagonist is driven by his conscience to extreme measures of justice. Does it mean that you’ve just watched Beast Stalker, Sniper, Fire of Conscience, or the next 15 movies that the prolific director is going to make? Lam’s latest, The Stool Pigeon, reshuffles the cast of 2008’s acclaimed Beast Stalker and relates the plights of the titular fall guy – before all the aforementioned subjects kick in again. . . By telling essentially the same story again and again from every conceivable angle of the law and justice system, is Lam striving to become the Yasujiro Ozu of cop-and-crime morality tales? Given the arresting intensity that he’s been investing in every new work, we consider that a blessing. - Edmund Lee


The Movie: 7.5


“Treat your informant as a friend, but don’t be friends.”  This is how Police Inspector Don Lee (Nick Cheung) instructs his novice detectives, and hereby lays out the film’s central dilemma.  More complex than Dante Lam’s Beast Stalker, The Stool Pigeon lacks the earlier film’s focus.  On the other hand the new film is ambitious in its scope, attempting to find emotional and dramatic texture in a movie cliche: the police informant.  Without a doubt, nowhere has the relationship between cop and informant been done as well as on HBO’s The Wire, but Bubbles was never placed in the kind of life-risking situations as Ghost Jr puts himself so that he can earn the kind of money needed to pay off his father’s debt and rescue his sister from enforced prostitution.  Inspector Lee’s informants act more as undercover police than mere informants, except that they lack the protection an officer would have; moreover, the police have few scruples about extorting cooperation in exchange for putting their lives on the line just to bring in a case.


The business of extortion continues on up the chain of command, to the top, we well imagine.  In this case, Lee is squeezed by his commander to get more than 100% from his informant just so he can nail a criminal that has evaded capture over the years.  The problem is that Lee, for all his talk and loyalty to the force, is one seriously suppressed individual and profoundly affected by the case of one informant in particular, “Jabber” (the HKFA winning Kau Chi Liu), who was ripped to shreds, physically and emotionally as a result of Lee’s decision to allow him to be exposed just to get his collar and, as it happened, a promotion.


Karma doesn’t wait for a succeeding generation to take its toll, and Lee becomes victim as well as perpetrator, an irony that is not lost on him and one that at a practical level he is loathe to repeat with his next informant, Ghost Jr (Nicholas Tse), whom he persuades into acting as his stoolie shortly after Ghost Jr is released from prison.  Ghost’s character and the reason for his needing the money impresses Lee and the inevitable conflict of interest reaches the kind of crisis that the Chinese(and Koreans) are particularly good at milking.

The Stool Pigeon goes into high gear with the entrance of Dee, played by Kwai Lun-Mae, yet another pop figure with serious, unexpected acting chops.  Dee is the girlfriend of the target of Lee’s investigation who shares with Ghost Jr a moment of consequential history.  Meanwhile Lee tries to look after Jabber, who has since melted into a life of paranoia and homelessness.


No longer merely a “promising talent” with a pretty face, at 31, Nicholas Tse can now be counted as one of China’s leading actors.  His moving performance in The Stool Pigeon makes clear that Bodyguards and Assassins and Beast Stalker were no flukes.  He and Nick Cheung switch the roles they had in Beast Stalker, where Cheung was the Beast and Tse the cop.  Cheung is often thought of as an action figure with some of the best moves in the business (Exiled, Election, Breaking News), but he is also an intense and competent actor.  Here he assumes an almost wooden physical presence in order to contravene an inner world of guilt and pain, but when his normally reserved demeanor fails him, he disintegrates in ways we don’t usually see in films from any country.

I shouldn’t leave this review without mentioning that the final scene is one of the bloodiest for this genre, deserving of an “R” rating by any standard.  None of it is gratuitous, but because of how we feel about the characters by this time, it’s intense, perhaps in a cruel world way, deserved.  Consider yourself warned.


Image: 8/9

A little more variable in sharpness, resolution and color contrast than Dante Lam’s Beast Stalker, the differences largely attributable to more location shooting.  Despite the modest bit rate and single layer disc, Well Go’s transfer does Kenny Tse’s remarkable photography justice with deep blacks, tight grain, tangible dimensionality, absence of distracting noise or other transfer issues. Brightly lit shots are deliberately blown out, all the more so for its having been shot on HD video.


Audio & Music: 9/8

As recently as two weeks ago I gave my first score of 10 for a live action movie in I don’t know how long - many months anyway.  And here we are again - damn near:  Kinson Tang’s palpably textured sound design is absolutely riveting. (It lost to Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame in this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards - so look out for that film on Blu-ray.)  Yet the audio mix is also naturalistic, eschewing the kind of pumped up LFE common to American films of all stripes, especially notable in the rush of an elevated commuter train, its (thankfully) few car crashes, and a particularly loud, but well controlled explosion.  I short, the bass doesn’t get carried away with itself regardless of the effect or music cue.  Note also the skin crawling machete slices, the deliciously varied gunfire effects, and the fast & furious street racing with its perfectly panned and balanced surround cues - especially persuasive when the cars hit a tunnel.  Henry Lai’s high energy  music track hits just the right beat, while some of his more suspenseful writing may be a little overcued here.  The less than neat Cantonese dubbing of Miao Pu was the only point deduction for this otherwise demonstration quality audio mix.


Translation & Subtitles: 7/8

The subtitle font is neat, while and unobtrusive, while the translation misses the mark now and then on English idiom in, for example, its use of “dawdle” instead of “delay,” and “rewards” in stead of “bonuses,” (rewards is less cumbersome, but in the context you definitely want bonuses.  When they leave a jewelry shop together Liu Kai Chi  says to Nicholas Tse “Next time you come, take it for me” instead of “pick it up for me” or “get it for me.”  These niggles aside we always know what’s going on, or, if it’s unclear at first it’s not the fault of the translation.


Extras: 6

Not a great deal here, but it’s all informative, in standard definition and with English subtitles.  There are five deleted scenes of various lengths, totaling eleven minutes.  The menu indicates a “Making of” featurette that might also be thought of as a series of interviews with the director, his  co-writer and/or producer, and several of the cast members.  They discuss the backstories of their characters at length and touch on some of the production issues. The longest item is titled “Behind the Scenes” and for three quarters of an hour we are treated to just that, unhosted, but with English subs for the wild dialogue.  Well Go Trailers are also included in HD for Little Big Soldier, Legend of the Fist, and Shaolin. I might add that the movie’s end credits lists everyone, not just the big names, in both Chinese and English.


Recommendation: 8

Any fan of Hong Kong police dramas should find much to appreciate in this densely packed thriller.  Not quite the killer movie as Beast Stalker (also directed by Dante Lam and starring Nick Cheung and Nicholas Tse.) The image is quite good, the audio stellar.  I think you won’t be disappointed, nor will you be in Amazon's pre-publication price of $15.99.

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

September 17, 2011

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