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Original Title:
Sun cheung sau

Hong Kong 2009


Dante Lam

Richie Ren
Huang Xiaoming
Edison Chen
Jack Kao
Liu Kai Chi
Bowie Lam
Wilfred Lau
Mango Wong
Michelle Ye
Patrick Tang
Charmaine Fong
Lam Chi Tai

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The Sniper

Story: Hartman (Richie Ren) is leading a sniper unit within the police force. He is the best in his profession and has only been outdone by his former rival Lincoln (Huang Xiaoming). Latter one is jailed for some time already, because he shot a hostage during a mission by accident. However, Hartman doesn't only have a hard time because of rookie OJ (Edison Chen), who he tries to keep in check, but also because of Lincoln who has just been released from prison and helps gangsterboss Tao (Jack Kao) to escape from custody. Alongside Tao Lincoln wants to pull off a big coup and at the same time take revenge on the police, especially Hartman, who he makes responsible for his time in prison as he thinks that Hartman withheld important information from the investigation committee in order to get him behind bars. A dangerous game between Hartman and Lincoln takes its course which will show who is the better sniper after all...

Review: "The Sniper" is an adrenaline-loaden, testosterone-packed action film without any fancy additions and is told in a very compact timeframe. Director Dante Lam might be considered one of the better directors of Hong Kong cinema, but that's a reputation he only deserves to a certain degree. His movies are somewhere in the (upper) average section and "The Sniper" offers too little substance to even deserve a spot there. The story is absolutely negligible, the characters can never arouse any interest and the very little drama that found its way into the film can't work out because the movie feels too disjointed and incoherent. The cuts are too jumpy between one action scene and the next which often makes you wonder what actually just happened that lead to the next sniper duel. Which doesn't really make the duels that thrilling, but simply frustrating, as the emotional framework is missing.

However, we shouldn't just blame Dante Lam for the somewhat incoherent movie we are presented with here, but also Edison Chen. That is because the Sniper actually has been put on hold for a while already, to go more into detail this is a movie that has been shot just before the much discussed sex photo scandal of our good boy Edison. After the incident Edison Chen was banned from screen and Hong Kong's film industry in general, which lead to the fact that Dante Lam's actioneer has found its way on screen just now. Yet, only after Chen's role has been severely cut down. That's something you won't be able to overlook, OJ is more of a side note now, which naturally wasn't planned and we often get the impression that the movie lost a got deal of its focus because of that. His character remains underdeveloped, although he should have been the audience's identification figure.

Anyway, you shouldn't expect too much from the other characters either. Richie Ren ("Exiled", "Breaking News") embodies the tough instructor, who has always been competing with his rival Lincoln. Somehow we can't warm up to him, despite (or because) of a haphazardly implemented episode concerning his wife and child. He remains too cold and shallow for us to care for him. Edison Chen as already stated has been cut out of the movie as much as possible and therefore only Huang Xiaoming ("The Banquet") is left to sympathize with. Huang manages to portray a villian who actually isn't one and more or less is forced in his role by others and certain circumstances. The strokes of fate he had to endure make us sympathize with him, but as soon as he has gone completely nuts we see no hope for him anymore and start to root for Hartman. Huang, at least, can deliver the most multi-layered portrayal in the movie, even if that doesn't mean that much.

"The Sniper" could have made it its strength that the borders between good and evil are blurry, but Dante Lam misses this opportunity as well as several others. Lam's special expertise is the presentation of testosterone-loaden pictures, though. It's almost disturbing how often men with oiled bodies clutch their phallus-like sniper rifles and lock on their next target completely focused in order to compete in a typically manly (?) contest. Freudians certainly will only come to one conclusion, but that's not one we should be interested in here. Instead we should point out the Hollywood-like presentation including several slow-motion scenes, dynamic camera movements and numerous color filters that are used to transmit a certain level of style and pathos. Latter one is also created by the soundtrack which takes a page out of Harry Gregson-Williams' book because of its almost patriotic tunes.

Lam's directing is too artificial and what worked out surprisingly well in his ridiculous movies like his former "The Twins Effect" and in fact made it quite amusing, will only lead to the viewer rolling his eyes here. Granted, there may be some interesting shooting sequences, the sniper theme itself also has its special appeal and the level of blood and violence is appropriate for such a movie, but the entertainment potential is never really put to good use. With its short running time "The Sniper" delivers some fast-paced entertainment, that can be quite nice, if you have nothing else to do. For everyone else it's more productive to dig out some of the old-school actioneers. Unless you are a fan of naked sweaty men...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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