Hooligan Sparrow

Directed by Nanfu Wang

Starring Haiyan Ye, Yu Wang and Ye Haiyan

The danger is palpable as intrepid young filmmaker Nanfu Wang follows maverick activist Ye Haiyan (a.k.a Hooligan Sparrow) and her band of colleagues to Hainan Province in southern China to protest the case of six elementary school girls who were sexually abused by their principal. Marked as enemies of the state, the activists are under constant government surveillance and face interrogation, harassment, and imprisonment. Sparrow, who gained notoriety with her advocacy work for sex workers’ rights, continues to champion girls’ and women’s rights and arms herself with the power and reach of social media.


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  • ★★★★ review by Harris Dang on Letterboxd

    With incredibly startling footage that looks like it's straight out of a REC film as well as shocking revelations about crime in China, director Wang Nanfu bravely shows the dark side of Communist China in all of its seediness and corruption. I was so surprised of the amount of footage she got away with, let alone smuggling it out of the country.

    And don't leave out the courageous subjects in the film who stand up to the injustice. They're the real inspirations. Full review coming soon.

  • ★★★½ review by Colin Stacy on Letterboxd

    "An alternative title for Nanfu Wang’s Hooligan Sparrow could be A Women’s Rights Activist’s Travelogue of 21st Century Communist China, or: How to Flee. Activism is front and center in this audio-visual, boundary-bending collage, but this is ultimately a tale of exile. Nanfu Wang, who serves as producer, writer, editor, and director of the film, set out to document the work of the activist Sparrow but instead found herself, along with other Chinese activists, an enemy of the state. The film – as shot and shaped by Wang – is an Orwellian document of escalation and fear.


    Hooligan Sparrow is a first-person immersion into the dark underbelly of China’s communist gallows. The filmmaking is as fluid as its subject. It’s a collage of handheld, digital footage, compiled from a DSLR camera, spy glasses, mobile phones, a voice recorder – an arsenal of modern technology. Wang the craftswoman creates an audio-visual hypnotic warp that juxtaposes and unites images, commentary, and themes that mimics the confusion and thrill of the activist’s plight. There ends up being so many threads to follow in the film that at times it’s difficult for Wang to keep a coherent vision. But the aesthetic is fitting.

    Underneath the fleeing and paranoia, there is a subtext of a land lost. It’s a lament for a homeland and a portrait of a crazed, corrupt, many-tentacled beast of a government. So much imagery is spent of the travel, that if you took out the protests, invasions, and abuse, it’d be something of a Chinese reverie. Undoubtedly, that awareness is purposefully heightened. Wang loves China. It is her home. It is Sparrow’s home. In its lamentation, it’s ultimately a film of desire. It mirrors the longing of its subjects. They want peace and justice. They want to live in harmony and to find joy."

    My DIFF review is here at Reel Spirituality:


  • ★★★½ review by Lucy Rice on Letterboxd

    These women are amazing and important people and Ai Weiwei is amazing too and everyone see this lil doc it's great.

  • ★★★★½ review by J.W. Hendricks on Letterboxd

    Important, devastating, relentlessly infuriating, yet empowering, Hooligan Sparrow is an absolutely essential piece of doc-tivism. The risky situations the director put herself in are some of the most compelling scenes of 2016. It's hard to deny how impressive an achievement this is. Not as cohesive as it probably should be, but the film sheds light on its subjects in a beautifully humanizing way. I had a couple friends meet and hang out with director Nanfu Wang back in April, and they said she was the sweetest. This needs to be seen.

  • ★★★★ review by Michael Herrington on Letterboxd

    As you watch Hooligan Sparrow, you get caught up in the joy of protesting for justice and eluding your opponents who try to shut you up. But the movie is far from triumphant. You truly worry about what will happen to Ye Haiyan and her fellow activists. An exhilarating documentary that deserves more attention.

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