Sparrow ★★★★

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 of plot: sequences like the balloon popping elevator ride or the card game into drinking contest all come in service of setting up the cat and mouse game. The erotic passing of a cigarette in a car is sensual, but not in the same way that a Wong Kar-Wai film will elongate the sensuality: it has a narrative point in pushing characters through the labyrinth of Hong Kong.

Sparrow’s rarity, however, come in being a comedy of kindness. As Ignatiy points out, “The stakes in Sparrow are much lower than any of his other films: no one is going to die (except maybe of old age) and the main characters get the physical violence coming to them early on, spending a portion of the movie with their arms and legs in casts or walking on crutches. There is no unavoidable set-up pitting people against each other.” To brings his usual case of brotherhood and loyalty, of males competing in bruising egos more than bruising ears, all for a woman who acts more like a stand in for romantic idealism, an innocent little bird like the title suggests. And thus the climax, To’s reimagining of the opening title credits to Demy’s Cherborg, is as complex as anything he’s ever done: poeticism combined with economy. Each shot provides “information” on what will follow next, of where and what and who is happening as suits, knives, and passports all take on an elegant grace. The cinema has never suggested that one cannot delight in such pleasures while translating plot details. This is the Milky Way touch

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