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:


  • ★★★★★ review by allydott on Letterboxd

    My new heroes 😍

  • ★★★½ review by Sam C. Mac on Letterboxd

    More than a documentary on an activist, this is activist in its formalist choices as well — reclaiming the ‘objectivity’ of socialist propaganda montage, rehabilitating the image of reportage. Nanfu Wang could be doing for the discourse on corruption and power in China what Laura Poitras has been doing in the west.

  • ★★★★ review by green thunder on Letterboxd

    Nanfu Wang is the truth. This is bold documentary filmmaking that spits in the face of the oppressors.

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