This tale of three sharpshooters locked in an Alpha-male contest delivers enough thrills to hit ancillary targets offshore.

Anyone expecting the vise-like tension and clever scripting that helmer Dante Lam and writer Jack Ng brought to the terrific “Beast Stalker” will feel let down by “The Sniper.” But as an above-average Hong Kong actioner, this tale of three sharpshooters locked in an Alpha-male contest delivers enough thrills to hit ancillary targets offshore. Pic was, in fact, shot before “Beast” (in fall 2007) but held back from skedded release last year due to a sex-photo scandal that torpedoed the career of co-lead Edison Chen. Pic finally went out this spring in Hong Kong, snagging an OK HK$6 million ($780,000).

Chen plays beat cop O.J., who’s invited to join the sniper unit after distinguishing himself in a standoff with some criminals one night. While training under hard-assed Hartman Fong (Taiwan’s Richie Jen), he hears about legendary marksman Lincoln (mainland Chinese TV star Huang Xiaoming) and becomes obsessed with equaling or beating him.

Coincidentally, Lincoln has just been released after four years in jail for some (as yet undisclosed) wrongdoing. After picking up a long-distance rifle and tipping off Fong that a Taiwanese gangster (Jack Kao) is about to bust out during a prison transfer, Lincoln takes potshots at the cops during the actual snatch, though he spares Fong.

The beautifully edited sequence, almost a half-hour in, with Lincoln controlling events, god-like, from a high vantage point, sets the tone for an elaborate revenge plot. Lincoln blames Fong for his imprisonment and means for him to pay; Fong, though a onetime friend and colleague, in turn intends Lincoln to pay for killing his cops during the jailbreak.

The three leads are totally defined by their work, making the supporting female roles — Michelle Ye as Fong’s ex-wife, Mango Wong as Lincoln’s beloved — little more than token coloring. Pic, which runs only 86 minutes, also shows signs of cutting at a late stage: Some plot transitions and the leads’ backstories are jumpy, the character of O.J.’s father (Tung Wai) is hardly developed, and there’s even a hint (left hanging) of Lincoln using Fong’s young daughter to psych him out.

Pic’s strongest section is its first hour, with an elevator shootout and subsequent chase that reps the movie’s highlight. Third act, featuring a shootout in an abandoned building, is more by-the-numbers, as the character psychology becomes more simplistic.

Chen, in a relatively small role, doesn’t make much impression compared with the charismatic Huang and Jen, who is surprisingly good in a tough-guy role far removed from his usual romantic-comedy persona.

Technical package is slick, with a standout score by Henry Lai that (rare for a Hong Kong production) develops its main theme in symphonic style.

The Sniper

Hong Kong

Production

A Media Asia Films production. (International sales: Media Asia, Hong Kong.) Produced by Candy Leung. Executive producer, John Chong. Directed by Dante Lam. Screenplay, Jack Ng; story, Lam.

Crew

Camera (color), Cheung Man-po; editor, Angie Lam; music, Henry Lai; art director, Alfred Lau; costume designer, Choy Yim-man; sound (Dolby Digital), Chan Wai-hung, Nip Kei-wing, Phyllis Cheng; visual effects supervisor, Stephen Ma; stunt co-ordinator, Richard Hung. Reviewed on DVD, London, July 30, 2009. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Richie Jen, Huang Xiaoming, Edison Chen, Bowie Lam, Liu Kai-chi, Jack Kao, Wilfred Lau, Mango Wong, Michelle Ye, Charmaine Fong, Tung Wai. (Cantonese, Hokkien dialogue)

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