A stake out as rain sluices down onto lush grass. A police spotter peers through a telescope, the shack he’s staring at has a neon tinge. The criminals have ten-inch blades. Suddenly, the action explodes with gunfire, shouts and bodies tumbling. A wounded police officer is being held at knifepoint. A police sniper has his gun trained on the knife-wielder. His mentor advises, “If you go for his heart he still has eight seconds to react. Hit his reflex nerve two inches behind the eyeball.” Bang, the sniper makes the shot. Cue cheesy opening credit music.

This scene tells you everything you need to know about Dante Lam’s The Sniper, except for the salacious reason why the cinema release date was pushed back from 2008 to 2009. In 2008, photos went viral of lead man Edison Chen getting sexy with Hong Kong’s most respected actresses. There was a massive scandal. Chen received death threats.

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Chen’s character in The Sniper, OJ, has not chosen the safest lifestyle either but he can shoot a coin off an apple at 400 metres, so that’s handy. The key to sniping is breathing control according to Lincoln (Xiaoming Huang), the Special Duties Unit’s best ever sniper who got sent to prison after accidentally shooting a hostage. He claims his risky shot was essential because the hostage-taker was about to pull the pin on a grenade. No one else saw this. Although Hartman (Richie Ren) might have been lying as he’s the second best ever sniper and when Lincoln went to prison, bing, he got a promotion. This detail is flashback. Real-time starts with Lincoln leaving prison, looking dour, and preoccupied with revenge.

All this is explained as an afterthought in chunks of exposition between shoot-outs, stunts and cheesy slow-mo. Visually, it feels like being in a computer game city. Days are dominated by slick skyscrapers and grey warehouses while night is a garish carnival of 7/11 neon. Action sequences are full of sudden zooms and panoramic spins and all the three main characters wear moody but otherwise inscrutable expressions.

Once you accept that the sequentially baffling, melodramatic, dreamlike, plot is merely there to hold together the action sequences, it’s possible to enjoy this B-movie fluff for the ridiculous thing it is, although, moments of attempted poignancy are laughable.

Reviewed on: 19 Mar 2012
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The Sniper packshot
A sniper, fresh from jail, goes in search of revenge.
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Director: Dante Lam

Writer: Wai Lun Ng, Dante Lam

Starring: Richie Ren, Xiaoming Huang, Edison Chen, Bowie Lam, Kai Chi Liu, Jack Kau, Wilfred Lau, Mango Wong

Year: 2009

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Hong Kong


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