A lack of meaningful connection with the central characters makes it difficult to care what happens to them.
With an opening sequence that suggests an eastern adaptation of 'The Great Gatsby', Sparrow begins with a cheerful jazz soundtrack accompanying Kei (Simon Yam), who appears to be a successful young businessman, as he floats around his apartment. He is joined by a mischievous sparrow – a recurring image throughout the movie. In Hong Kong, 'Sparrow' is slang for pickpocket, which, it transpires, is what Kei is.
Kei and his three companions in crime (played by Gordon Lam, Law Wing-Cheong and Kenneth Cheung) have some light-fingered moves that would be the envy of the Artful Dodger, but their daily routine is scuppered by a beautiful woman (what else?) in the form of Chung Chun Lei (Kelly Lin), a flirty minx with an ulterior motive.
Directed by the prolific Johnnie To, who can boast Election and Triangle among his many cinematic offerings, Sparrow runs on conflicts; symbolic versus farcical, male versus female, free versus trapped. Much of the movie is surprisingly light humoured considering it deals with two rival gangs of pickpockets, with a frightened Chung Chun Lei caught in the middle. When she is chased by one beaten-up group, who look like something out of a zombie apocalypse, it is hard to decide whether to laugh or cry.
While this is a beautiful film to watch, with camera artistry that explores the old and new areas of Hong Kong and captures some intimate character details, any real sense of narrative depth is lost. By the time the story does take a darker turn, the lack of any meaningful connection with the characters makes it difficult to care what happens to them.
Johnnie To is back!
Pretty, energetic, funny.
Feels like it’s trying to be meaningful, but is about as deep as a paddling pool.