Ambling through sights and sounds in Sparrow (Johnnie To- 2008, Hong Kong)

 

Sound can bypass the conscious mind, working directly on our most visceral impulses such as ‘fight or flight’!

I have long believed that Johnnie To’s formal technique and his mastery in sound and visuals is second to none in contemporary world cinema. So I have decided to walk through a scene from his utterly masterful minimalist crime-thriller, Sparrow. Here is a sort of walk-through of that sequence-

 

The elusive Chun Lei (Kelly Lin) has gulled a quartet of pickpockets, and they pursue her to a rooftop. As the men explore it, we hear traffic and a distant plane, which evokes Chun Lei’s plan to flee Hong Kong.

 

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They spot her on the roof. The suggestion that she might jump is underscored by distant traffic horns.

 

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As the men approach Chun Lei, we hear distant sirens and a soft wind.

 

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An extreme long-shot of the gang provides a still broader sound canvas, with traffic sounds predominating.

 

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In a much tighter shot, as the actors come closer to the camera, the ambiance thins and softens. Now here To smartly times the traffic to underline the dialogue.” Chun Lei leans forward to kiss Bo (Lam Ka-Tung), trying to provoke the leader Kei (Simon Yam) to jealousy. We hear echoes of a passing truck, almost as a warning.

 

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