Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week in search of films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to…
There’s a brilliant scene in the upcoming Kathryn Bigelow film, The Hurt Locker, that features two snipers duelling from hundreds of yards apart. It’s tense and suspenseful, but it’s also intentionally slow and grueling. You’ll hear more about the scene when the film opens wide this summer, but trust me that it will instantly take a top spot in the pantheon of sniper cinema. For reference, Mark Wahlberg’s under-appreciated Shooter is in the top half of the spectrum while Tom Berenger’s Sniper 3 is at the far other end.
Somewhere in the middle sits the new film from director Dante Lam. The Sniper opens with two young cops who find themselves outnumbered in a criminal hideout. Lucky for them (well one of them anyway) the house is under surveillance by members of the elite SDU Sniper Squad. Squad leader Hartman (Rickie Jen) is impressed by Officer OJ’s (Edison Chen) confidence, ability, and photogenic charm and brings him onto the team. OJ’s brash and egotistical and reminds the squad of perhaps their greatest sniper, Lincoln (Huang Xiaoming), who left the squad four years ago after accidentally killing a hostage. Charged with the crimes of over-confidence and cockiness he was sent to prison but has since been released. After four years in the Hong Kong klink Lincoln’s out for revenge and more than a little out of his mind. The stage is set for a mano-a-mano-a-mano battle royale where only one sniper’s routine will reign supreme!
The Sniper teases some dramatic threads, but it’s really all about the action. Good thing too as the action is generally pretty solid. Lincoln helps some local thugs free their boss, Tao Yip, from a police transport resulting in a shootout in the street. Pistols and machine guns trade fire from behind cars and barriers while sniper rounds rain down from above. A standout scene finds Hartman in an elevator recognizing Yip and two of his cronies behind him just as the doors close. It’s a tense affair built on facial expressions and mirror reflections as they realize he’s a cop and attempt to take him down. Sure the cramped shootout is more than a little reminiscent of the one in Die Hard With A Vengeance, but it still works beautifully… especially as it spills into a hallway battle and chase. And while a finale set in a giant warehouse may not seem the ideal place for a sniper battle it still manages to be an exciting setup. The hardware on display throughout the film is also quite cool with a variety of sniper rifles including Dragunovs and a .50 caliber making appearances.
Lam is a highly inconsistent director with crap like Vampire Effect sitting alongside surprisingly entertaining pics like Beast Stalker. This film belongs towards the top of his resume because he manages to keep events tense and the action exciting and sharp without getting too ludicrous. On the acting front, two of the three leads are convincing in both their action scenes and the limited drama and emotions they encounter. Jen has been around for a while and Huang is a relatively new face in films, but both are good enough to warrant seeking out their other work. Chen though continues to be an incredibly shitty actor. The Sniper was delayed after his well publicized photo scandal featuring him with several nude, bright-eyed, and bushy (some bushier than others) starlets. The controversy probably resulted in cuts to the film eliminating some of his storyline. That’s not a bad thing.
While the core of The Sniper rests with the action scenes, the pointless and/or soon to be abandoned dramatic arcs stand out for their uselessness. Hartman’s estranged wife attempts suicide… causation and domestic tension is ignored. OJ’s father is a petty crook… father/son conflict is ignored. Hartman and Lincoln both vie for OJ’s attention, one a tough but fair mentor, the other an ultra-cool outsider… loyalty tug-of-war is ignored. Lincoln’s wife is a klutz… well, that works itself out. Love lives are pretty much ignored in general with the partial exception of Lincoln and his clumsy bride. A quote early on lays the groundwork for the men whose focus and affection rests with the job… “You must use your heart when you hold a gun.” Nothing is really done with that or any of the other dramatic angles leaving the film to rest mostly on it’s action alone.
There are far better films in Hong Kong’s past, but recent years have seen a drought of quality work from the region which helps The Sniper stand out more than it otherwise might. It’s a fun flick and worth a ninety minute investment for fans of sniper films or action in general, but cinephiles in need of something more need not apply. Catch it now before the inevitable sequel hits replacing Chen with Jaycee Chan. (Or the Hollywood remake replaces him with Zac Efron.)
Check out the trailer below (courtesy of Twitch).