Feb 11, 2008|
Category IIA. Much ink has been spilled over Johnnie To’s taking three years to complete this film. But the director doesn’t care. He’s said he would have taken even longer if he could have. Such insouciance can be found in every nook and cranny of “Sparrow,” and it’s what makes this lighthearted labor of love well worth the wait.
The film opens with a sparrow entering the apartment of master pickpocket Kei (Simon Yam). Kei tells his team of protégés (Lam Ka-tung, Kenneth Cheung, Law Wing-Cheong) about the episode, and they agree it’s a sign of bad luck. Sure enough, bad luck comes walking into each of their lives in the form of a wily seductress played by Kelly Lin. We learn that she’s a damsel in distress, and her strange plight only gets stranger as the film progresses. Kei and co eventually find themselves in a bizarre dream world where rival pickpocket gangs square off against one another in choreographed ballet sequences.
To clearly enjoyed making this film. One of the early wallet-snatching scenes depicts Kei and his team playfully engaged in their everyday work. It suggests pickpockets operate less out of necessity than sheer fun. And the same nonchalance characterizes every aspect of To’s own work here. Plot and character development are thrown to the wind in favor of aesthetic flourishes and tributes to all the things he loves but previously hasn’t had time for.
One of these is French New Wave cinema. Its trademark stylistic flourishes are abundantly on display here, along with bicycles, cigarettes and umbrellas — the last of these in a grand finale that pays homage to Jacques Demy’s “Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” Another object of affection in the film is the urban charm of old Hong Kong. The protagonist spends much of his time photographing the latter with his antique Rolleiflex camera, and To displays equal enthusiasm when capturing the small streets behind the hulking skyscrapers of the city without the clatter of bullets for once. With enough good films under his belt, To takes this opportunity to thumb his nose at local industry demands and indulge his own personal fetishes and fancies. “Sparrow” shows he’s no caged bird.