"...too much of a novelty-movie to be considered a masterpiece."

- Mighty Peking Man

Sparrow (2008)

Director: Johnnie To Kei-Fung

Cast: Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Kelly Lin Hsi-Lei, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Law Wing-Cheong, Kenneth Cheung Moon-Yuen, Lo Hoi-Pang, Lam Suet, Dang Taai-Woh

Running Time: 87 min.

Plot: See review below.

Availability: This title is available at


MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: Over the years, Johnny To has received a semi-bad wrap for making too many films within short periods of time (since 2000, he has made 22 and 1/3 films). Depending on your taste, he's either a cinematic genius or an average filmmaker who does the whole "quantity over quality" thing really well.

My opinion lies somewhere in between. How could I forget the perfection of To’s direction in films like All About Ah Long, A Hero Never Dies or Fulltime Killer. Then you got the ones I’m trying to remember (or maybe trying to forget), like Throwdown, Breaking News or PTU. To be fair, if I could think of one word that sums up his body of work, that word would be 'diverse'.

Johnny To is basically the "White Album" of Hong Kong cinema - an artist with lot of tracks, with each one being very different and engaging, but only about half of them truly showcase his real cinematic talent.

This brings us to Sparrow, a film about a gang of professional pickpockets (Simon Yam, Gordon Lam, Law Wing-Cheong and Kenneth Cheung) who, one by one, come across a beautiful, but mysterious, woman named Chung Chun Lei (Kelly Lin). Little do they know, she has her own motives for the them, which leads to a crucial situation where the pickpockets must put their skills to the test.

One critic described Sparrow as being “Johnny To's love letter to Hong Kong”. Eh, whatever. I think the person who wrote that was intentionally trying to get his/her words on the DVD case or trailer (and they did get their wish). I didn’t exactly read that review in its entirety, but a better statement would be “Johnny To's love letter to French films of the 1960’s”...

Sparrow is filmed with elegance, style and retro in mind. Single long shots. Close ups. Brilliantly choreographed situations. The look of the film is refreshing, bright and clean. Even the soundtrack is a soothing blend of jazz, mixed with Eastern and Western musical influences.

Sparrow is part comedy, part drama with some mystery thrown in. There might not be any action in the movie, but there is a suspenseful, slow-motion scene towards the end that can almost qualify as the film’s action-packed finale.

My only real gripe with Sparrow is that it's missing any sense of closure or ground when it comes to the plot. By the time the movie ends, it’s as if nothing was really solved or gained, especially for the main characters. And this is where I say that it’s too much of a novelty-movie to be considered a masterpiece. Don’t get me wrong, it's fun, artsy, keeps a great pace, but it’s not what I’d expect of a movie that Johnny To spent 3 years making.