Review of Dante Lam's SNIPER

If not for the sex picture scandal, this film would have been released about a year ago, and would likely have solidified Edison Chen's position as box office draw given his stellar performance in the crime-action flick like Dog Bite Dog and pop idol fare such as Initial D. But we know what had happened over the span of a year, though I suppose the decision to hold this film back would have helped it in increasing the curiosity surrounding it, given it's likely his last / first performance since the scandal.

His character in Sniper is a typical Edison Chen persona – young, brash and impatient, toeing the line of the good and possessing that streak of arrogance. As OJ, he aspires to be the top shooter amongst the SDU (Special Duties Unit) Sniper Unit, and is mentored by the team leader Hartman (Richie Ren, who also starred as a sharpshooter in Johnnie To's Exiled) who discovered him during a mission, and is impressed by the upstart. Given the attributes of a sniper – confidence, decisiveness and ruthlessly accurate, egos are swelled and clashes are part of the game, where while it's a team effort, you can't deny those strong individual desire to excel above the rest.

The unfinished business of the earlier generation comes back to haunt the team in the form of the disgraced, and once top shooter Lincoln (Huang Xiaoming), who in a rash, negligent act gets sentenced to imprisonment, and upon release swears revenge on his once buddies. For a moment there was a tussle for the apprentice ala Star Wars style, where the young one found his training under his mentor too stifling and never appreciative of his abilities, and on the other, darker side, becomes seduced by sexier techniques which seem to be the path toward instant results and glory.

But alas the story unfortunately becomes quite fluffy, with great departure from what the synopsis would have led you to believe, with the dramatic moments just excuses to string the action sequences together. The runtime under 90 minutes also provided a feeling that the film has been super summarized, given a lot of sub plots being introduced briefly, but never really reaching second base, especially with the relationships of the snipers and the opposite sex. You would wonder why they had even bothered to devote time to this aspect, just to know that the crazed nut Lincoln is terribly infatuated with his girlfriend, OJ's girlfriend is a one scene wonder, and Hartman's estranged wife lies comatose most of the time, waking only to shed tears and raise her voice. I guess in a sniper's life, the only “wife” they take care of, as in the prologue, is their rifle, to protect it with their life or professionally, they're screwed.

I had enjoyed director Dante Lam's previous effort Beast Stalker and here, he crafted some wonderful sniper action scenes without resorting too much on the looking-through-the-scope syndrome, striking a balance in being instructional, yet adequately paced to be tension-filled. What I appreciated is his fusion of that psychological element a sniper brings to the table, of the ability of how one man well hidden, and well trained, can take out a platoon or company, because of that element of fear that is introduced. Too bad for the many cardboard supporting villains and victims though, and that strange need to CG some dark clouds and fake lightning to drape many scenes.

Undoubtedly the show belongs to the ensemble cast in oozing machismo as they do battle, but you can't help but to feel that it is Edison who's pulling in the crowds in what could be his last hurrah. In a cruel twist of irony, his character here can't wait to talk to and provide snide remarks to the media, which is a far cry in the real situation he's in now. One can only wonder how things would have turned out if not for that moment of accidental folly.

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