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The Stool Pigeon

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In other words, whether you're into HK cinema or not, temper your expectations.

The storyline bears all the roots of a great Michael Mann script, rife with ethically compromised cops and their questionable informants, and the danger that awaits both sides of these shaky pig-and-snitch relationships as they go undercover. Here, director Dante Lam ("Vampire Effect") focuses on the uncharacteristic one between detective Lee (Nick Cheung from Johnnie To's "Election") and the aptly named Ghost Jr. (Nicholas Tse of "New Police Story"), as emotionally complex as the one at play in Andrew Lau's "Infernal Affairs."

Obviously, "The Stool Pigeon" has higher aspirations than operating on a level of pure action, but it does that part so well. The picture's highlight has to be the car chase soundtracked to Bing Crosby crooning "White Christmas." The juxtaposition of crime and Christmas songs elicited a "Die Hard" vibe from me, but your reference point for the movie as a whole is probably Mann's "Heat" or Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" (which is a remake of Lau's aforementioned film), although it's good as neither.

Cheung may be top-billed, but there's no question that Tse is the star. Finally free of pretty-boy roles that pigeonholed him (no pun intended) early in his career — the loathsome "Gen-X Cops" comes to mind — he acts the hell out of this one. —Rod Lott

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