Sparrow 麻雀 releases two episodes a day from Monday to Thursday, and then one episode a day from Friday to Sunday. As such, I have decided it would be more convenient if I recapped two episodes at a time. Here is a link to the first episode, uncut version, on Youtube.
Episodes 1-2 Recap
The drama begins in Shanghai during winter of 1941, set in the backdrop of the Second Sino-Japanese War. A woman, Shen Qiuxia 沈秋霞, meets up with a man and tells him to hang a poster in the bulletin board of the vegetable market declaring that the police are looking for a missing person. “Sparrow should be flying again soon,” the woman says mysteriously.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to Chen Shen 陈深, a barber who appears to be popular with the ladies. In a dance hall, he links arms with his actress girlfriend while praising another’s earrings (“That you picked out,” she adds) and telling another she ought to cut her hair soon. As the two ladies leave, Chen Shen’s partner tells him he should only be good to one woman.
The scene cuts to someone being tortured in a jail cell, unwilling to reveal anything to his captors, the leader of whom is Bi Zhongliang 毕忠良. Zhongliang asks the man if his communist beliefs can really save him, and the man replies to kill him. Zhongliang doesn’t bat an eyelash as he proceeds “But what about your wife and children? Do you want them to die with you or to live with you?” In the end, the man acquiesces to signing some document, and Zhongliang’s assistant comments that they have succeeded in capturing another sparrow in their web.
Back at the dance hall, Chen Shen twirls around with his partner while keeping an eye on another lady who sits alone at a table. When she stands up and moves to the bar, he follows her, leaving his partner to dance with another man. He strikes a conversation with her, and she notices he smokes a Japanese brand of cigarettes. “Well, this fits my status as a traitor to the Chinese,” he says.
The two move to a silent room to talk. We find out that the lady is Chen Shen’s sister-in-law Qiuxia, and that Chen Shen’s brother has died. He asks her where she and her child disappeared off to these past three years, and didn’t she know that he was so lonely in the meantime trying to fit in with the Chinese traitors doing nothing all day? She tells him that this disappearance only helped hide Chen Shen’s identity further. Chen Shen and Qiuxia decide to exit the room at different times to avoid suspicion.
Chen Shen exits first without problem, but when his sister-in-law leaves the room, she is pursued by Zhongliang and his team, who have just arrived at the dance hall to meet Chen Shen. They recognize her and begin shooting at her until she almost collapses. Zhongliang stops any further shooting and tells them to bring her to the hospital.
The rest of the dance hall is interrogated if they know the woman, and eight suspects are picked from the crowd and their names recorded in a notebook. When one man asks what exactly he did wrong, one of Zhongliang’s men slams a chair onto his back so hard the chair breaks from the impact. The crowd can only watch in horror.
When Zhongliang cross-examines the eight men in more detail in a jail cell, he asks Chen Shen to come in and add some input. One of the men glances a little longer than the others at Chen Shen, piquing Zhongliang’s curiosity — and suspicion. While Zhongliang sends Chen Shen to the hospital to go check on Qiuxia’s injuries, he also sends one of his men to monitor his movements.
At the hospital, Qiuxia is awake, but she is still bedridden. Chen Shen begins to set up an elaborate rescue plan by placing strange white pellets around the hospital. It turns out these things cause explosions, and in the midst of the chaos, Chen Shen is able to transport Qiuxia away from the hospital. “Your safety is more important than my life,” she tries to warn him, but he tells her he can guarantee his own safety.
Next, Chen Shen uses a piece of broken glass from the explosion to cut a wound on his face and pierces his shoulder as well. He orchestrated the plan in such a way to push the blame onto Wu Zhiguo, the person who was monitoring Qiuxia’s room the whole time. Zhiguo was killed by Chen Shen, but the tracks are not detectable due to the explosion.
Chen Shen tells his version of the story to Zhongliang, who appears to believe him on the outside, but who still doubts him a little. That night, Chen Shen has dinner at Zhongliang’s house. Zhongliang’s wife is a devout Christian, and prays to God before the meal to keep the two men by her side safe. After dinner Chen Shen and Zhongliang talk alone and we find out that back then, while the two of them were still fighting on China’s side, Chen Shen saved Zhongliang’s life in battle.
The next day, Chen Shen goes to visit an orphanage in the morning, but since he is still being followed by one of Zhongliang’s men, he brings Zhongliang’s wife along. There he tells the head nun to assemble some people he knows to the orphanage that night, and he also says hi to Qiuxia’s son, who is staying there currently.
In the afternoon Chen Shen is ordered to accompany Zhongliang in interrogating the Communist suspects. He enters the room and cannot bear to see his sister-in-law being beaten, and starts to leave, but Zhongliang tells him to come sit down with him and have tea. Just when someone is about to brand Qiuxia’s cheek with hot embers, Chen Shen can’t take it anymore and says to stop. He takes over the interrogation and asks Qiuxia if any of the eight men in front of her are also working with her.
She says none of them are, and that Chen Shen is the sparrow. He plays along, teasing Zhongliang to arrest him now. Instead, Zhongliang tells him to kill the eight suspects one by one until Qiuxia confesses. Chen Shen is unwilling to do so, and Zhongliang says he’s been suspecting Chen Shen for some time now.
Acting is very strong all-around, and I’m pleasantly surprised, as I watched a few episodes of Legend of Chusen and wasn’t particularly impressed by Li Yifeng there. The friends / enemies dynamic between Zhang Luyi and Li Yifeng is masterfully acted out and I am looking forward to seeing how their confrontation in the interrogation room plays out next episode.
There is a narrator! I don’t know why dramas often choose not to have a narrator, since it proves useful in situations where it’s awkward having a character say their thoughts aloud. It’s also especially important in this series to have a narrator given the immense historical nature of the drama.
Most of the reasons I wanted to watch this show have not appeared yet. Namely, Zhou Dongyu and Zhang Ruoyun. I’m beginning to worry that they might not play such big roles in the drama after all, but I hope this isn’t the case. Hopefully they are introduced in the third episode.
Gifs and pictures credit to 扒圈老鬼 Weibo and 电视剧麻雀 Weibo.