A.K.A Man Jeuk (CULTURED BIRD)
A mysterious woman (Kelly Lin) captivates four professional pickpockets (Simon Yam, Law Wing-cheong) in Hong Kong.
Johnnie To is renowned for his particular style of cult-gangster films, and it was only last year that I discovered him. Having only seen Election 1 & 2 as part of my 365 movie challenge, and then Drug War earlier this year, it was a great introduction to the prolific director from Hong Kong. His films on the whole are usually quite violent, often based around the endless battle between triads and detectives, but always remarkably stylish in their execution. These films are anything but one-dimensional, as they all explore social and humanistic themes that transcend the confines of the gangster world. Sparrow drops the violence, but maintains the style and exploration of emotions in what was a somewhat different direction for Johnnie To.
In Sparrow, we follow a mysterious femme fatale played by Kelly Lin, as she enters 4 highly skilled pickpockets lives through a series of encounters. She is beautiful, and while they are stealing wallets, she has stolen their hearts and minds. However, there is more to her than just looks, and the simple nature of her mere existence keeps you guessing. Strange men following her or remain the background of most scenes, and she is constantly running from them, what is her story? What is her background? And why these men?
Some of the questions remain unanswered during this film, but with its jazzy soundtrack, intriguing characters, and its disorientating yet captivating finale, it enables you to bypass the plot holes and inconsistencies. For this is a film where style has trumped substance, and the grim, violent, substance that I am more commonly exposed to within Asian cinema remains largely off screen. Instead, this gang of low-level pickpockets injected with the trademark sense of awkward, self-depreciating humour as a result of their predicaments, makes this appear as more of a comedic crime caper than an intimidating, organised crime classic.
It is not an axe wielding triad film, and I am thankful for it. Arty, energetic, funny and full of surprises, Johnnie To is anything but a one trick pony.