Sparrow AKA Man jeuk
R2 - United Kingdom - Terracotta Distribution
Review written by and copyright: Mark McManus (13th September 2011).
The Film

‘Sparrow’ is Hong Kong slang for pick-pocket, and as the film opens we follow the antics of a small gang of local pick-pockets as they go about their trade in expert fashion.

Soon their profitable existence is interrupted by the appearance of a mysterious girl, who approaches them one by one. We soon discover that she is the mistress of a retired crime lord, who wishes to re-join her true love on the Chinese mainland. Her problem is that her passport is being kept under lock and key by her sugar daddy, and she needs the gang’s skills to get it back.

This is made difficult because, not only is he having her every move tracked and setting his thugs onto our ‘heroes’, but it turns out he is an old hand in the pick-pocketing game himself, and can give as good as he gets.

Directed by veteran Hong Kong film maker Johnnie To, Sparrow is a light and breezy film, with much in it to enjoy. The scenes of the pick-pockets at work are very well shot and edited, so you can always make sense of the ‘choreography’. While the gang’s introductory scene is great, the highlight is the final showdown, a wordless, slow-motion pick-pocketing ballet shot under cover of umbrellas in the pouring rain.

The cast, led by Simon Yam as the pick pocket gang’s leader and Kelly Lin as the girl who steals all their affections, are all great, and their performances match the tone of the film perfectly, easily switching between light comedy and drama and back again as the story moves along.

At times the film feels quite old fashioned, and does evoke French New Wave cinema. In fact, I would say that Sparrow is occasionally too self-aware, sometimes to the point of almost breaking the fourth wall, with the behind-the-scenes craftsmanship always evident. Too clever for its own good? Not quite, but it’s definitely a ‘filmy’ film, and not afraid to celebrate it.

While such whimsy won’t be to everyone’s taste, Sparrow is light and fun, and hard not to like.

Video

Clean and with minimal grain, video quality is very nice indeed and is 2.35:1 anamorphic.

There’s nothing tremendously flashy going on, but there is a nice warmth to the image, with strong but not overblown colours. Plenty of scenes are shot on external locations, and they have a nice natural look, while at other times, as required, the image is much bolder. Early scenes in a casino for example, exhibit strong blacks and punchy, neon-lit highlights, with great contrast.

This is a very well shot film, with stylish, but never over the top, use of colour, and it’s very well reproduced on this disc.

If there is a criticism, it would be that the image is not as sharp and can be seen on the very best transfers, but I never felt like I was missing any of the detail.

Audio

As with the video, there’s no thrilling action to be reproduced here, but the soundtrack is very pleasing. Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo are available.

Dialog is clear and precisely placed, while the film’s brilliant score is accurately reproduced. Using a mix of classical Chinese and more modern European jazz, the music lends the film a wonderful, whimsical air, and really keeps things moving along. There are times when the tone of the music is seemingly at odds with what’s happening on screen, but it never feels out of place.

Directional effects are few and far between, but atmospherics sounds and the music fill out the rear channels nicely, bringing you into the action without ever being distracting.

Extras

This is just a single disc release, following on from Terracotta’s previous 3 disc special edition.

Extras here are a little thin on the ground, with just a brief (1m 34s) introduction to the film via an interview with To, and a selection of Terracotta trailers; Hansel and Gretel (1m 45s), God Man Dog (1m 54s), The Fox Family (1m 32s), Breathless (1m 57s), Big Tits Zombie, which looks like a completely hatstand bonkers Grindhouse-style zombie movie, with big tits, making it a guaranteed classic (2m 20s), The Detective (1m 47s), Sparrow UK trailer (2m 10s) and What is Terracotta Festival? (2m 10s).

Overall

Sparrow may come as a shock from those expecting something a bit more like the usual grittiness from Hong Kong cinema, and those hoping for the slick flashiness and high tension of something like Infernal Affairs will be disappointed.

However, those open to something a little more leisurely and jaunty will find much to enjoy here.

The Film: B+ Video: A- Audio: A- Extras: E Overall: B+

 


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