Nicholas Tse did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Sergeant Tong Fei in Beast Stalker.
Having watched both this film, and director Dante Lam's similar follow up Stool Pigeon it seems he should perhaps return to his more casual, almost Jim Jarmuschesque style of his earlier film Beast Cops, which I had a great deal of affection for. As with "Pigeon", this film bizarrely muddles its plot throughout either failing to create development within the characters or doing it in such a way that dilutes its impact. Both films also suffer from a lifeless central performance by Nick Cheung, this time as a scarred criminal who I would say had some potential as written, but Cheung's approach is one note. It is absolutely baffling that Cheung was the actor to win the best actor prizes for this film when you have the one asset, that Dante Lam should hold onto, that being Nicholas Tse as the primary lead. As with the later film Tse once again is the highlight of the film. This is from the outset just through his incredible charisma as a performer. Tse is engaging frankly even when the plot is not as he just carries such an ease onscreen that it is at the very least easy to follow him through the story, even if the story isn't all that compelling in itself.
Tse has a bit more to work with than just being a needed source of star power for the film. The central story of the Sergeant Tong Fei, in terms of conception, should be a compelling one. We see in the brief opening scenes as confident police detective doing whatever he sees fit to catch the criminals. Tse of course can brim with such confidence and establishes the Sergeant as well as anyone could honestly. The central conceit quickly happens where a car accident intertwines the various characters. Tong Fei's experience within this is particularly traumatic as the confusion leaves him to accidentally kill a young girl the criminals somewhat randomly kidnapped. Tse is terrific in the scene in terms of conveying both the cause, in showing so well the physical confusion of the moment, as well as the grief in his realization. Tse's horrified reaction captures the immediate realization of what the sergeant has done powerfully, even if the film isn't quite sure what to do with this. The film quickly fast forwards past the sergeant dealing with these actions to move onto the story of trying to save sister of the killed he killed as well. I actually think this could theoretically work however neither Lam's script nor his direction is deft enough to realize this approach.
That is not to say that Tse does not give it his all to attempt to make something out of this central idea of the broken and grief stricken detective trying to make things right. Tse has some moving, rushed by the film, moments within there. There is a natural warmth he projects, and effectively realizes that loss of that confidence as he conveys in his eyes that sense of the grief of his previous actions being a constant burden upon him. The film almost seems to purposefully cut away just when something truly remarkable will come from his performance though. It far too often dilutes the focus on Tse to give far too much time to Cheung's story, which I understood what they were going for yet it is completely wasted through his bland portrayal. This sadly diminishes the dramatic thrust of the sergeant's story which in turn diminishes the impact of Tse's work. Tse is consistently good though when he is given the spotlight however it is almost all the more frustrating because of that. I kept waiting for the film to properly devote the time to grant a better insight into the character, but quite simply never gives the character nor Tse the time. Tse has some strong individual moments whether it be a moment of extreme ptsd when in a gunfight, or when he thinks he might have failed the second daughter as well. Tse delivers the raw intensity of these moments, bringing to surface the underlying grief in these moments, that individually are very moving. They are only parts of a problematic whole that always leaves the character's story underdeveloped as the film bizarrely never gets its priorities straight. Nevertheless Nicholas Tse does his best to make what he has work, and he succeeds to a certain extent. Although this still feels wasted in part he does succeed in still breathing a bit of life into the film's proceedings through his charismatic and moving portrayal of an under served character.