DMovies - Your platform for thought-provoking cinema

Hooligan Sparrow

Director - Nanfu Wang - 2016

"Dirty gem"
Undercover filming is a lifesaver for a group of female human rights activists in China denouncing widespread child abuse and dodging government repression - find out why in this new Chinese documentary

It is not easy being a woman, particularly if you live in China. In this new documentary, a group of human rights activists protesting the rape of six girls by a school principal soon become fugitives, as government officials attempt to muffle their protests and intimidate the women in every possible way. They are constantly threatened with violence and arrests, and they fear for their lives. Filming their endeavour is seemingly the only way of avoiding the worst possible outcome.

One of these activists is the filmmaker Nanfu Wang, who has lived abroad before, and narrates the events in clear English. The most famous activist is Ye Hayan (nicknamed “Hoooligan Sparrow”), who previously campaigned for sex workers by offering sex for free. She became a prominent activist in China and the world, as well as the subject of a BBC documentary. The Chinese establishment loathes her extremely controversial acts.

Campaigning for justice in the name of raped children may sound almost like a human duty in most countries around the world, but in China this is a very dangerous and subversive deed. Chinese officials routinely offers child sex as a means of bribing, and the practice is even “fashionable”, the movie claims. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese establishment unofficially monitors and oppresses all of these activists, and sometimes even their families. All of them – including a human rights lawyer – are eventually arrested and convicted of various made-up offences.

The verve and resilience of these women are remarkable. At one point, Hooligan Sparrow posts a picture with a sign: “you can kill me, but you cannot kill the truth”, while others say to the camera that they will not commit suicide (so that people know they have been murdered in case they show up dead). They also insist in taking the police to court for their unlawful arrest, despite knowing that they will lose the case. Their objective is instead exposing the flawed justice system in their country and the plight of women. They claim that “to remain silent is to be an accomplice”.

In Hooligan Sparrow, the camera is much more than an artistic tool, it is a lifesaver instead. It is the immutable register of the extremely dangerous and liberating battle that these women are fighting against possibly the most powerful and authoritarian government in the world. The oppression is such that at times the movie feels like a horror flick. At one point Wang talks to the camera, not knowing whether she will survive or anyone will ever see the material. This fear is akin to that experienced by the characters in The Blair Witch Project (Eduardo Sánchez/ Daniel Myrick, 1999) – the difference is that here their predicament is real.

The outcome of the film is not entirely negative, as in the American horror movie. Despite the prison sentences, the footage (mainly memory cards) leaves China, and Hooligan Sparrow’s furniture left on the street when she is evicted is eventually reconstructed by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei for his New York Exhibition.

This is not the first time that a film has to be made in secrecy in order to denounce human rights or a social issue in China. Earlier this year Inside the Chinese Closet (Sophia Luvarà, 2016; click here in order to read our dirty film review) revealed the uphill struggle that gays and lesbians face in a country where marriage is borderline compulsory.

Hooligan Sparrow is currently showing in film festivals around the world, including the Sheffield Doc/Fest (click here for more information about the event). You can contact the film team directly in case you want more information about distribution rights or upcoming screenings – click here in order to accede to their website.

And you can watch the film trailer below:


"Dirty gem"

By Petra von Kant - 25-05-2016

By Petra von Kant - 25-05-2016

Petra von Kant is a filmmaker, critic and performance artist. She was born Manoel Almei...

DMovies Poll

Are the Oscars dirty enough for DMovies?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Most Read

Forget Friday the 13th, Paranormal Activity and the [Read More...]
Just a few years back, finding a film [Read More...]
A lot of British people would rather forget [Read More...]
A small family of four lives in a [Read More...]
Pigs might fly. And so Brexit might happen. [Read More...]
Holidaying in Cambodia with Isaac (Ross McCall), Ben [Read More...]

Read More

Tallinn celebrates 25 years of showcasing the finest world cinema!


Victor Fraga - 21-10-2021

The Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival turns a quarter of a century with a diverse film selection, which firmly establishes the Estonian capital as a city of world cinema [Read More...]

Miguel’ War

Eliane Raheb

Eoghan Lyng - 21-10-2021

In this probing confessional, a frightened Lebanese gay man makes peace with his past - documentary premieres at Raindance [Read More...]

All Sorts

J. Rick Castaneda

Redmond Bacon - 20-10-2021

The banality and beauty of office work expertly intertwines in this absurdist filing competition comedy - from the Raindance Film Festival [Read More...]

Facebook Comment

Website Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *