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Smart thieves make great protagonists in any well-directed film, and Sparrow is no exception. Like a Cantonese Ocean’s Eleven, Johnnie To’s crime drama is light on its feet, if not always easy to follow. One day, the film’s quartet of pickpockets meet in a diner before heading out to relieve Hong Kong residents of their wallets. Each then has a separate run-in with the same comely young lady, Chun-lei (Kelly Lin), who flirts her way to their weak spots and turns out to be the kept woman of an elderly criminal. To, normally an action helmer, unveils Sparrow with such fluidity and gorgeousness that its style trumps its substance—the final showdown is a slow-motion dance sequence involving umbrellas, sharp glances, and deft hands in pouring rain, a brilliantly choreographed scene. A playful jazz score adds to the sense of slick sophistication. The sparrow metaphor is a bit heavy-handed—the head thief cages one in his apartment, but the word is also Cantonese slang for a skilled pickpocket, and on top of that seems to reference Chun-lei’s own cage—but as with any glossy film about ne’er-do-wells, it’s best to just let any deeper meaning fly.
Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Also at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 23. Both showings at Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Director Mike Walter will be present.