Film: The Sniper
UK Release date: 12th March 2012
Director: Dante Lam
Starring: Richie Ren, Xiaoming Huang, Edison Chen, Bowie Lam, Jack Kao
Running time: 91 mins
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewer: Adam Wing
If you look back at Dante Lam’s career you’re sure to discover a fine body of work. Beast Cops is an obvious standout, but lets not forget The Beast Stalker, The Stool Pigeon and even The Twins Effect (I liked it anyway). The Sniper - literal translation is Godly Gunslingers - finally hit theatres in 2009, sandwiched between The Beast Stalker and the The Stool Pigeon. Not as good as either, but considering the turbulent journey it took on its way to the big screen, I’m surprised there’s enjoyment to be had at all.
The Sniper revolves around the Godly gunslingers of the Hong Kong Police Force’s Special Duties Unit (SDU). Richie Jen (Exiled) takes on (and takes off his shirt) Huang Xiaoming (Royal Tramp), two deadly sharpshooters on opposite sides of the law. Love him or hate him, Edison Chen (Dog Bite Dog) portrays an up and coming sniper, keen to be the best in all he does. It was Chen’s 2008 photo scandal (pretty much all about nothing) that led to the film's delayed release and re-editing, but its probably best if we leave that story in the past where it belongs. They are joined in the firing line by the likes of Bowie Lam (Hard Boiled), Liu Kai Chi (The Beast Stalker) and former pop singer Mango Wong.
The plot is pretty basic; a police sniper (Richie Jen) teams up with a hot-headed rookie (Edison Chen) to take down his former friend and team-mate (Huang Xiaoming), who seems to be exacting revenge on the police force after a takedown went wrong and put him in prison on charges of manslaughter. Jen’s Hartman is considered to be the force’s number one marksman, even though deep down he knows he’s only number two. Xiaoming’s disgraced Lincoln was clearly top dog, and there’s unresolved issues between the pair of them. Enter Chen’s new kid on the block, OJ, a cocky young upstart who more than rivals them both on the battlefield. He’s none too shabby with a camera either but like I say, it’s probably best if we let that one go for now.
Compared to recent offerings, The Sniper is a lightweight action thriller with very little depth to reel you in. There’s evidence of a deeper, more engaging movie bubbling beneath the surface, but some story arcs go nowhere and several scenes (even at under 90 minutes) act as filler. Hartman’s wife attempts suicide early on but you’ll do well to remember what she looked like come the final credits. OJ suffers the worst fate of all, his father is introduced in an early scene and there are clearly issues between them, but it’s pretty much the last time you see him and you get the feeling that several scenes were deleted in order to appease the storm taking place at the time. Chen wasn’t a popular man in the press and clearly the filmmakers thought the film needed less of him to survive. His character plays a prominent part in the films opening act, but he’s all but absent in the middle portion of the film, which is a shame because he still has a part to play in the films denouement.
Chen’s acting style has always been a little chaotic though, and his overall performance is no less perplexing here. Xiaoming is far more convincing as the conflicted bad guy, and it’s his charisma that carries the film through rocky terrain. There’s still plenty to enjoy if you like your action fully loaded. Lam has always been a dab hand at bringing conflict to life, and the sniper sequences bring with them enough drive and purpose to keep them on the right side of entertaining. The score is intrusive right from the start, but in a way it gives you a good idea of what to expect from the rest of the movie. The Sniper doesn’t waste time on subtlety and subtext, not when it can go straight for the jugular, and for 90 minutes this really is slam-bang stuff. There’s plenty for the girls (and some guys) to enjoy, as most of the male cast run around with their tops off at one point or another, and like their torsos, The Sniper is a well oiled action machine that delivers the goods when it needs to most.
There’s evidence of a meatier movie lurking beneath the surface, but when there’s so much flesh on display anyway, chances are the film doesn’t need it. Lam has and will make much better films but in fairness, he can’t be held responsible for any damage done in the editing room. His recent run of form might suggest more, but when it comes to lightweight escapism, The Sniper just about hits its target.