Although Johnnie To hasn't really made much impact in the English speaking world, he's particularly popular in France, and he returns the compliment with Sparrow, which draws heavily on the romanticism of Jacques Demy and Claude Lelouch's Sixties films. Unfortunately despite being one of Hong Kong's most consistent directors, it's not one of his best works. Kelly Lin is the bird in the gilded cage who turns to Simon Yam and his crew of pickpockets to help her retrieve her passport from her keeper so she can find a true love of her own. Filmed over three years between other his films, with To reassembling his cast every three or four months, the plotting is thin, allowing To to tell his story largely visually with a minimum of exposition and a lot of style, but despite the director's passion it never quite clicks. Kelly Lin's damsel is convincingly distressed, but she gives little reason for Yam's crew to help her and plenty not to, while the final duel in the rain between Yam and Hoi-Pang Lo's sugar daddy, who turns out to have been a master pickpocket himself back in the day, lacks the ingenuity and panache to really fly. Which perhaps isn't that surprising since the pickpocketing scenes are a particular disappointment - these pickpockets are so clumsy and lacking in finesse as they crash into their marks like tanks it's hard to believe their victims are unaware of exactly what they're doing. There's none of the skill or exuberance you'll find displayed by Bresson's pickpockets. Even compared to To's earlier films, there's none of the more successful romanticism you'll find in the bus sequence in Running Out of Time or Moment of Romance 3. What you get instead are some nice moments but no great ones, some good visuals and a watchable movie that you can't help feeling could have been better.
Still, no such complaints about Terracotta's three-disc UK DVD set, which includes a nice 2.35:1 widescreen transfer (though a handful of shots are a bit jerky) with plentiful extras, including a one-hour documentary on the director, cast interviews and a CD of Xavier Jamaux and Fred Avril's very sixties-flavored score.