Review: SPARROW 文雀 (2008) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Review: SPARROW 文雀 (2008)

Review: SPARROW 文雀 (2008)

Professional "sparrow" (a Hong Kong street slang for "pickpocket") Kei (Simon Yam) starts his regular morning routine, dressing up in sleek-looking suit and rides bicycle to have breakfast at a usual cafe along with his colleagues, Bo (Lam Ka-Tung), Sak (Law Wing-Cheong) and Mac (Kenneth Cheung). Kei tells them he stumbles upon a sparrow flying into his apartment and everyone quickly claim it's a bad sign about to come. But Kei doesn't believe such superstition. After breakfast, they start working by pickpocketing unsuspecting victims along the busy street of Hong Kong and at the end of the day, Kei divide the share to each of them. When not on the job, Kei spends his free time photographing people and places with his vintage Rolleiflex camera while riding a bicycle. Then one day he finds an interesting subject in the form of a beautiful woman named Chung Chun-Lei (Kelly Lin) who dresses in expensive clothes and seemingly on the run from someone. She appears again, and this time at the sight of Bo who is playing hard at a casino. They quickly getting acquaintance and drinks heavily together. But Bo is the one who falls drunk and realises his wristwatch already gone along with her. Soon Chung Chun-Lei appears the rest of two Kei's colleagues, Sak and Mac respectively in a chance encounter before vanishing again. After all four pickpockets getting himself beaten up by some well-dressed thugs, they realised they're being fooled around by Chung Chun-Lei. Soon they find out that Chung Chun-Lei is desperately wanted to seek a way out of her rich bully, Mr Fu (Lo Hoi-Pang) in hope to start a new life on her own.

REVIEW: Shot on-and-off over the course of three years' time, Johnnie To's longtime pet project, SPARROW is certainly taken way too long to complete the whole production by Hong Kong cinema standard. The biggest question is: does it worth waiting for? The answer really depends on how viewers and fans are truly devoted of Johnnie To's eccentric filmography. 

For one thing, SPARROW isn't going to please the mainstream crowd and some fans who have appreciated his signature style of glorified violence and elaborate gunplay in the vein of his recent films like ELECTION or EXILED, which is clearly missing here. Suffice to say, this is more different feel than what Johnnie To has previously achieved. Like the title suggests, the movie is breezy and lightweight in tone and nature, playful and clearly not the type of down-and-dirty crime thriller he's often famous for. 

If anyone expecting a character-driven storytelling here, this movie doesn't really have one. Instead, the movie works like Johnnie To's own personal collection of after-hour playtime where "style over substance" rules. 

If anything, SPARROW is a pure cinematic pleasure which mimics the work of a French musical.  The result is very jazzy, with constant lively and knee-tapping score from Xavier Jamaux and Fred Avril solidifying every movement and rhythm of the flow so pitch-perfect it's so absorbing to watch for. 

To's regular cast are spot-on as usual but even though, their characters are strictly one-dimensional, they still manage to bring some necessary gravitas to their otherwise empty roles especially you can go wrong with the always-suave and very charming Simon Yam taking the lead. 

In exchange of the absent of violence and gunplay, To brings the movie's most memorable set-piece: the French musical UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG-inspired homage climactic finale where the excessive slow-motion scene showcasing a pickpocketing "duel" at night with rain and umbrellas as they crossed the street, trying to outdo each other. SPARROW may scream an empty-headed entertainment for most viewers but one can't deny this movie is a technical dazzle worth checking out for.

Johnnie To's long-delayed pet project is both breezy and lightweight yet playful caper comedy that emphasised heavily on style over substance.

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