The Sniper -- Film Review

Bottom line: Standard actioner that recalls the glory days of the so-called bullet ballet.

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HONG KONG -- With "The Sniper," we haven't seen this kind of old-fashioned Hong Kong brotherhood melodrama since John Woo and Ringo Lam were regularly cranking out action dramas that were gripping and ridiculous at the same time.

With budgets scaling back and the independent and social realist mini-industries gaining currency with their subject matter, the nonsense of films like "The Killer" has fallen by the wayside. "The Sniper," though, is a return to the roots that put Hong Kong's contemporary films on the map.

It must be said that there is a salacious element to "The Sniper" that will help it with local boxoffice. Co-star Edison Chen last year was embroiled in a sex-photo scandal (tame by standards anywhere but Asia) and was promptly driven from Hong Kong. His notoriety -- and absence from screens -- will generate buzz in Asia, but the film will probably remain a regional curiosity as far as theatrical release goes. Genre festival interest isn't out of the question.

Hartman (Richie Ren) is the Hong Kong police's finest sharpshooter, and after seeing rookie OJ (Chen) take out a garden-variety bad guy without hesitation, he takes him under his wing. All is going well, but then OJ discovers the maverick technique of Hartman's former partner, Lincoln (Huang Xiaoming), now incarcerated for his involvement in the death of a hostage, and OJ develops a very manly professional crush on him.

As per this kind of film, Hartman and Lincoln have a complicated history together, and when Lincoln gets out of jail gunning for revenge, a three-way showdown is in the cards. It's all as histrionic and homoerotic as it sounds.

Dante Lam ("Beast Stalker") bathes the film in a wash of grey light and slow motion, and the camera lovingly traces the path of gun barrels and bullets at every opportunity. And Nip Kei Wing's sound design is notable for clarity where it could have simply been noisy.

There's plenty of ambiguously macho dialogue about following orders and fearless trigger-pulling, sending "The Sniper" into the same lofty realm with some of Woo's best moments of bromance.

The tension between OJ and "Top Gun"-ishly named Iceman (Wilfred Lau) begins with their sweaty, bare-chested target practice. There are some dead wives and ignored girlfriends, but they have zero impact on either the main characters or the rest of the story such as it is.

But that's irrelevant when the movie belongs to the three men. None of the performances are award-worthy, but each actor knows what's expected of him. Ren ("Exiled") snaps orders and disapproves fittingly, and Chen (Hollywood's "The Grudge 2") scowls as well as he ever.

Huang ("The Banquet") is surprisingly charming as the brooding ex-cop out for the justice he thinks has been denied him. Or he just looks good with a big gun. Either one works for "The Sniper," which it too unpretentious to have any delusions of deep meaning other than supplying tightly packaged entertainment.

Production companies: Blue Fiction

Cast: Richie Ren, Edison Chen, Huang Xiaoming, Wilfred Lau, Jack Kao, Liu Kai-chi
Director: Dante Lam
Screenwriter: Jack Ng
Executive producer: John Chong, Song Dai
Producer: Dante Lam
Director of photography: Cheung Man Po
Production designer: Alfred Yau
Music: Henry Lai
Costume designer: Hilda Choy
Editor: Angie Lam
Sales: Media Asia
No rating, 84 minutes
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