This is a response to this list from Film4 of the 100 Must-See Films of the century so far that…
Kei (Simon Yam) is the experienced leader of a team of pickpockets — also known as "Sparrows" in HK slang. He enjoys a carefree lifestyle taking photos. One day a dashing beauty, Chun-Lei (Kelly Lin), suddenly appears in Kei's viewfinder. Kei is mesmerized. But behind Chun-Lei's attractive facade lies a mysterious past and a mission to set herself free.
It doesn't really get any better than the umbrella sequence.
The lightest, most graceful Johnnie To film. This time around I was enraptured by the jaunty shape-shifting score by Xavier Jamaux and Fred Avril. There's some Michel Legrand pop-jazz, Morricone vocalizations, and light bossa nova. It floats away with the movie.
Plus Simon Yam can wear the shit out of a linen suit.
Brothers on a bike
Snatching as a serenade.
Chasers become chased
A girl is the ultimate con.
Umbrellas of To-Berg.
If Exiled characterizes its sense of brotherhood through our awareness of the past, Sparrow builds it through the present—something tangible in the everyday presence of reality. The second sequence in the film, as we see the four men work the street, is something closer to watching Gene Kelly work his way through a crowd: elegant, calculated, and always with a smile. All of To’s gangster films have comedy in them (Exiled’s interlude in the desert, Drug War’s HAHA!), and his comedies have suspense as well, but separates Sparrow from your run-of-the-mill American comedy is every joke is also in service…
Who is behind this?
Tell me you have a Johnnie To film that I haven't seen that is basically just a rehash of The Mission or Exiled with almost the exact same cast and I would be as happy as a pig in the proverbial shit. Funny enough though the director's films that take a different approach while proving he isn't just a one trick pony make me just as happy because I know I'm always in for something special.
This is one of those films. Even though on the surface it can be considered a crime film about a group of four men it is vastly different then something like the excellent Exiled. First of all these "career…
"Sparrow" is a crime comedy centering around a group of pickpockets full of charm and wit, superb original music, good performances and is directed by Johnnie To.
Kei played in a confident and charming way by Simon Yam is the leader of a team of pickpockets. He's the oldest and most experienced member and obviously a mentor to his colleagues.
They each meet the mysterious woman Chun-Lei played Kelly Lin while on their own and things get mixed up in smirk-inducing, heart-warming, thrilling and charming ways.
"Sparrow" is shot in beautifully composed images with a lot of elegant tracking shots and paints a natural yet somehow magical picture of Hong Kong.
The score is one of the best I've heard…
It doesn't really get any better than the umbrella sequence.
I knew Johnnie To is a big old sweetheart.
Johnnie To still killin it
Starts off really well with a levity and wit not often seen in this genre. However, once the chemistry between the men and their 'mark' is established things start to take a backward step and become far more straight-faced (and sadly less interesting). Such a pity that it ran out of steam. Visually it was showing promise too. I would wager that Christopher Nolan was influenced by a few shots here that made there way over to Inception,
Johnnie To puts down the guns to make a more light hearted movie about birds oh wait no it's about pickpockets. It's a good looking movie with some expected directional flair, a chill as fuck crooning score and weird little comedy moments like the balloon bit and that fucking lift scene and basically any time they do little capers.
Kelly Lin gives good mystery as she comes to Simon Yam's crew in turn and acts all aloof and "help my Simon Yam Kenobi, you're my only hope". Keeps its cards pretty close to its chest and doesn't rely on dialogue to tell the story. It's mostly visuals and slow reveals, keeps you hooked. The big umbrella "set piece" was masterfuuuul. It's not quite Drug War good but it's a great little movie. It's sort of the opposite to his other crime movies, they're all frantic and intense and guns and shit, this is way more chill and quiet.
Featherweight crime caper comedy that floats along in the breeze. Elegantly shot, beautifully edited, and impeccably scored. Definitely the kind of film that invites repeat viewings—both for its craftsmanship and its pure entertainment. My favorite To, though I've only seen a handful of his pictures.
Johnnie To's Sparrow always feels like a film that was made because To had an idea for the final, slow-motion, gorgeously shot set-piece where the characters all come together in the rain with black umbrellas. If that is the case, then the rest of the 85 minutes was probably worthwhile, because that final, almost dance sequence is a joy. The rest of the film, concerning a team of pickpockets in Hong Kong, is extremely slight, but a lot of fun. The film is led by Simon Yam, giving his usual excellent performance, riding a bike around Hong Kong, remaining a lot of fun even when robbing people. The film's humour may be a little broad; glad to see the English custom of men-dressing-as-women is as hilarious to Hong Kong audiences as it is for English ones, but otherwise this is perfectly reasonable, if middle-tier Johnnie To effort.
So graceful, so magical, so balletic that it may actually be just a few bars shy of musical theater. I find myself increasingly convinced that To's lighter fare is the best entryway if one wants to understand (and love) the man. As an action director, he's something of a purist, favoring craftsmanlike direction so good it's probably the quintessence of the genre. But films like Sparrow or The Blind Detective seem to indicate that To actually denies himself a certain artistic license when he directs action. That's not a problem, really--bless him for being the best man for the job whatever that job may be--but it becomes dangerously possible to think of To as an overpraised shooter.
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