Beast Cops (1998) Movie Review

“Beast Cops” cleaned up the hardware in its native Hong Kong’s annual movie awards in 1998. The film was highly acclaimed by the critics and was, most importantly, a box office hit. The screenplay is by Gordon Chan and Hing-Ka Chan, with Chan (“2000 A.D.”) and Dante Lam (“Option Zero”) teaming up to direct. It’s not as action-packed as one might expect, and actually builds slowly, leading up to one of those free-for-all finales that Hong Kong Triads vs. Cops movies are known for. In truth, while “Beast Cops” is an excellent entry into the stagnant Triads vs. Cops movies, I can’t really say if it’s anything outstanding.

The film stars Anthony Wong (“The Color of the Truth”) as Tung, a slightly crooked, but mostly lazy, Detective working a stretch of streets run by a gang. The head of the gang is Roy Cheung (“Avenging Fist”), who flees the city after a hit that he arranged goes wrong. He leaves behind his cocky second-in-command, the young Pushy Pin (Patrick Tam), whose rise to power coincides with the arrival of strait-laced Detective Cheung (Michael Wong). Cheung is taking over Tung’s unit after having shot his former superior, a crooked cop, dead. While Cheung finds Tung and his partner Sam (Sam Lee) to be ineffective, his traditional views of the job comes into question when he falls for the spunky and slightly “off” Madame of a bar/brothel.

“Beast Cops” is obviously a good film, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. It certainly doesn’t breathe new life into its genre, and while Anthony Wong is quite affable as a cop trying to walk the unmarked line between being crooked and just “playing the game”, the ambiguity one expects of his character is not altogether well scripted. In a lot of ways, Wong is playing the same character that he’ll play in 2003’s “Color of the Truth”. You know the character is not crooked, even if he happens to gamble in the gang’s illegal casino. And while proverbial sidekick Sam Lee (“Bio Zombie”) runs around like a fool and bug-eyed (i.e. the standard Sam Lee shtick), you also know that his cop is lazier than he is actually crooked.

The same is true for Michael Wong’s Cheung. He may be traditional and straight-laced, but he quickly gets into the “flow” of things. You would think a cop who would shoot his own boss, and who got the nicknamed “King of Killers” for his quick trigger finger, would be less prone to corruption. (In one of the movie’s odd moments, Cheung breaks the fourth wall by talking directly to the audience; other characters in the film do the same thing.) While Cheung never takes money, he falls easily for the ditzy Yoyo (Kathy Chow) despite knowing that she’s operating a place of prostitution and, apparently, drug dealing.

But if you were to approach “Beast Cops” without taking it too seriously (i.e. as the morality play that it seems to want to be), then the movie is actually quite good. There’s plenty of humor to be found, although none so blatantly obvious that characters becomes Odious Comic Relief, a trap many Hong Kong films seem unable to avoid. Although Sam Lee does come close, even he manages to avoid the stereotype by playing his character somewhat straight. Actually, the fact that tough guy Michael Wong (“The First Option”) has a squeaky voice is the funniest thing about the film, although the movie never takes advantage of it.

To be honest, I’m not sure why “Beast Cops” was so heralded in its native Hong Kong. It’s certainly a good movie, there’s no doubt about that, and the ending is quite entertaining if you just ignore the fact that cops are running into a known gang hideout ready to do battle with knives. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but don’t cops carry guns? Why would you voluntarily leave your guns behind and storm a gang hideout knowing that one of your own is trapped inside, armed only with knives?

As a Cops vs. Triads film, “Beast Cops” is a solid entry. The relationship between cop Anthony Wong and criminal Roy Cheung may seem unique and even fresh, until you realize that this “bond of respect” has been used in so many other cops vs. gangster movies. Which is not to say that “Beast Cops” is unoriginal. The men’s relationship with their women, especially Tung’s unpredictable love affair with his gold digger/sometime girlfriend, are not only well done, but might actually be more interesting than the whole cop and robbers angle. Of note is a sequence concerning a missing condom.

The co-directors of “Beast Cops” are Gordon Chan and Dante Lam, two men responsible (individually) for some pretty good action movies in recent years. Although Lam seems to have hit a very big pothole with the idiotic “Twins Effect” in 2003, Chan has gone on to direct the big-budget “The Medallion” with Jackie Chan. While both men did a good job with “Beast Cops”, I had expected the whole thing to be a lot grittier. The truth is, the movie is too funny to be depressing, too gritty to be a comedy, and much too light to be taken seriously.

Gordon Chan, Dante Lam (director) / Gordon Chan, Hing-Ka Chan (screenplay)
CAST: Roy Cheung …. Big Brother
Kathy Chow …. Yoyo
Sam Lee …. Sam
Patrick Tam …. Pushy Pin
Anthony Wong …. Tung
Michael Wong …. Michael Cheung

Buy Beast Cops on DVD