HONG KONG 2009   Directed by: Dante Lam  Written by: Jack Ng Produced by: Candy Leung  Cinematography: Cheung Man-Po  Editing: Angie Lam  Cast: Richie Ren, Edison Chen, Huang Xiaoming, Bowie Lam, Kai Chi Liu, Jack Kao, Wilfried Lau, Mango Wong, Michelle Ye, Charmaine Fong, Patrick Tang

With Dante Lam’s latest movie FIRE OF CONSCIENCE released it’s a good opportunity to revisit his 2009 THE SNIPER.

Ming (Richie Ren) is the top shooter of the police force, but that is thanks to the fact that the former No. 1 is doing time in jail: Ching (Xiaoming Huang) accidentally shot a hostage on duty and was sentenced to 4 years due to manslaughter. Once released he has only one goal: take revenge. Not only is he after the criminals originally responsible for the hostage-taking, but he is also convinced that his colleagues gave false testimony of what happened back then and that as a result he was convicted. A duel between Ming and Ching begins but it gets even more complicated when the ambitious newcomer OJ (Edison Chen) gets in between them, trying to claim the top spot in the sniper hierarchy.

THE SNIPER is probably most notorious for its delay due to Edison Chen’s photo scandal and for being the first film of Chen released after the scandal. Originally scheduled for release in May 2008 it only hit cinemas about one year later. Quite a big ballyhoo for a movie that only co-stars Chen along others, but it also proves that he was vital for marketing THE SNIPER in Asia.

The story of the movie is basic and hardly ever getting out of the never-ending cycle of revenge. It doesn’t feel like a revenge flick though as a lot of time is spent on painting a glamorized picture of the snipers as a heroic elite force of the Hong Kong police. Once the proposition of the story is revealed there is no development whatsoever. The situation is crystal clear and THE SNIPER indulges in the stand-off between the antagonists. Everything else is irrelevant.

On the other hand you can easily fall for the movie for its aesthetics and fast-paced, hard-boiled action sequences. Again I have to acknowledge that Lam is one of the few directors in Hong Kong who never tries to apply stupid humor or a mix-and-match mentality to his action movies to please the crowd. Dante Lam’s action films (not necessarily the others) are as straightforward as they can possibly get in HK, honest cinema that doesn’t compromise.

Its story may not be THE SNIPER’s strength, but it is pretty much what Lam does in most of his actioners and what he has perfected with his latest movie FIRE OF CONSCIENCE. The duel between two men who are the same and very different from each other at the same time is his trademark concept; the way his heroes and anti-heroes perceive themselves and how others see them, and how their own image is reflected by the enemy, and how that starts to change them, make them realize certain truths about their life and personality – that’s what makes Lam’s movies outstanding and moves them forward at a neck-breaking pace.

THE SNIPER is reduced to the bear duel and uses the sniper topic to make the shootouts look different from many other films, adding high-octane impact thanks to all the fancy weaponry. What’s missing is detailed characterization, personal conflict, depth and emotions, more complexity and a more intertwined relationship between the protagonists, all of which has made FIRE OF CONSCIENCE a great movie.

THE SNIPER has all the prerequisites and the glossy finish, but it’s like the patty is missing between the bun and all the salad and the dressing. It’s a preparation for greater things to come, but still worth watching if you generally like Lam’s take on Hong Kong action cinema.



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