The term “Man Jeuk” (文雀) or sparrow is a Hong Kong slang for pickpockets. Aptly, the story is about a team of pickpockets leading a carefree life until each member crosses path with an enigmatic lady who seeks their help to regain her own freedom.
Clever but rather predictably, the bird was used to link the ideas of the characters together. One party being “sparrows” and the other party eagerly seeks the freedom of a bird.
The movie had a simple and straightforward plot. I readily give it away and rest assured that it wouldn’t affect the movie experience. I guess the show never intended for any clever twists to make you go, “Oh, that’s clever.” Instead, the director, Johnnie To presented it as a visual spectacle, capturing the sights and sounds of Hong Kong in a way that has probably been forgotten.
Johnnie To successfully created something of a parallel universe of Hong Kong that maintains its old world charm amidst the ever rapid pace of change. Beautifully and romantically shot, every scene was intricately filled with the old world charms of Hong Kong. The classic eateries where the team of four pickpockets gather daily for their meals of simple and distinct Hong Kong fare. The colonial buildings where the damsel in distress plays her cat-and-mouse game to shake off her unwanted bodyguards. The long flights of steps that connect the distinctive back alleys that have been made so familiar. The tight, angular spiral stairwells that are so unique to Hong Kong. The costume design was simple and effortlessly timeless with a good dose of vintage. It was almost like a walk back in time, until an extra picked up his a rather modern cell phone to answer a call.
The cast didn’t exactly shine in the movie as they weren’t necessarily portraying the most well thought out characters. They looked good in all the scenes and definitely fit the roles, but that’s probably all there is to it. But the performances probably aren’t going to earn the casts any nominations.
Perhaps the simplistically made was an intended homage to the classics that came from the golden era of Hong Kong film. A story of the underdogs having their day. Mild slapstick scenes to twitch the corner of our mouths. I guess it was Johnnie To’s intention was to re-introduce Hong Kong films to his audience’s regular staple of Hollywood films. It might even be part of a continual effort to establish a niche for Hong Kong films.
My verdict: Watch it if you are looking for something refreshingly different from Hollywood films, it is definitely something to catch if you love great cinematography or just starting to get into art films. The simple plot removes the need for any additional thought to process for the audience to concentrate on being visually pleasured from start to finish.