Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Sniper (Dante Lam, 2009)

Huang Xiaoming as Lincoln in Dante Lam's The Sniper (2009).

Originally filmed in 2007 but released in 2009, Dante Lam's The Sniper was postponed because of co-star Edison Chen's sex scandal in which intimate pictures of him and various Hong Kong actresses were leaked to the public when he turned his laptop in for repairs. The delay also caused Dante Lam's next film, The Beast Stalker (2008), to be released before The Sniper even though it's something of a sequel thematically.

Since I'm a fan of sniping action I've been looking forward to The Sniper since I saw the first promotional shots of it and while I had my doubts about how good it would be, it didn't disappoint. The base of the story is about competition and the competition between men in particular , the question is if there can be two masters at something co-existing or if one will always try to exceed or bring down the other, and the dark sides that this competition can bring out of a man. It's all spelled out pretty clearly during the film, there is not much subtlety in The Sniper.

Edison Chen plays OJ, a regular beat cop who joins the Special Forces sniper unit of the Hong Kong Police where he comes under the command of Hartman (Richie Jen), the unit's top shooter. OJ soon discovers there was another sniper, named Lincoln (Huang Xiaoming), who used to hold the title of top shooter before Hartman. On a mission four years earlier, Lincoln took matters into his own hands and accidentally killed a hostage. Since no one would testify on his behalf that the hostage taker was about to pull the pin out of the hand grenade he was holding, Lincoln has been incarcerated up until now. When Lincoln is released around the same time as the criminal that he failed to kill, it all comes to a boil with Lincoln blaming his former unit for his time in prison, Hartman trying to maintain command over his unit and OJ looking to become the best sniper on the force.

Not everything is perfect in The Sniper but as I want to end this post on a positive note I'll start with the flaws. At only 87 minutes in length, including the end credits, the film still has some superfluous scenes like the ones with the main characters' wives and girlfriends. They don't do much for character development since you get a pretty clear picture of them anyway, just adding some unnecessary sentimentality to the film along with the in-your-face message. This is more of a minor nuisance though, since it doesn't manage to bring down the entertainment level of the film as a whole.

Richie Jen as Hartman.

The actors all do a good job of displaying the competitiveness and the dual feelings between duty and to personally excel that it brings with it, even though if it's not really anything we haven't seen before. Both Chen and Jen work as the cocky new recruit and the more experienced unit leader but it's Huang who stands out as the menacing Lincoln, stealing every scene he is in with his screen presence. No matter how good the actors are though, a film like this stands and falls with its action scenes and this is where it really delivers. Not confining itself to the premise of its title, The Sniper features regular gunfights, chases, car jackings and explosions as well as stealth snipers picking off their targets, all culminating in the final, surprisingly bloody, sniper showdown, which is one of the best action set pieces I've seen in a long time.