Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

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Happy to have another slick spy drama to grace my screen. It’s a familiar Chinese-versus-Japanese plot, but this time it stars two sworn brothers who looks like they are willing to betray each other at the drop of the hat (as cute as the bromance is). This ought to be interesting.

Sparrow Episode 1 RECAP:

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Shanghai, 1941. The Japanese agents has entirely infiltrated the Chinese puppet government and are suppressing all resistance from the inside. But some of the Chinese are retaliating in the espionage war. Front and center of the war is Chinese Communist Party spy, Shen Qiu Xia (Li Xiao Ran).

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She enlists the help of another comrade to find Sparrow. Unknowingly, the comrade is under the watch of the government. He is captured and mercilessly interrogated. Watching is the Director of the Public Security Bureau, Bi Zhong Liang (Edward Zhang). He tells the comrade to choose between life and death, for both him and his family.

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In a stark contrast, our main character Chen Shen (Li Yi Feng) visits an affluent night club. Even with a girl on his arm, he flirts with other ladies. But his companion Li Xiao Nan (Kan Qing Zi), who is his self-proclaimed girlfriend, is not deflated. They happily dance away, as Qiu Xia watches sullenly from a corner.

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Chen Shen recognises her, and after exchanging a conversation at the bar (where he calls himself a traitor to his kinsmen), they sneak away for a private conversation. She reveals herself to be his superior Zai Xiang, and he calls her his sister-in-law. He tells her he has been looking for her and his nephew Pi Pi ever since his brother’s death.

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Qiu Xia explains that she didn’t keep in contact for the past three years because she wanted Chen Shen to further strengthen his disguise. He wants her and Pi Pi to live somewhere safer but she tells him that they both have a greater mission.

Chen Shen: “But to mingle and laugh with the traitors, not being able to kill them, is that a life fit for a human?”

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Back at the interrogation room, Bi Zhong Liang’s righthand man Er Bao happily mentions that they finally found a trace of Sparrow. The comrade must have revealed Qiu Xia’s location. Bi Zhong Liang orders him to get Chen Shen, who is the leader of Team 1, but he is nowhere to be seen. Bi Zhong Liang is unhappy, but they leave anyway.

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There is no time for sentiments for the family reunion, as Qiu Xia asks for the latest news from the Bureau. Chen Shen says that “Sparrow” has been getting them a lot of information, irking the Japanese. The Bureau has been ordered to capture him/her.

But more importantly, she has a new mission for him. There is a secret plan by the Japanese and the government to infiltrate both the Nationalist and Communism party to destroy them from the inside. She orders Chen Shen to find the plan’s codename and contents.

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He asks after Pi Pi, whom she says is not with her. It is not safe for either of them to meet, though if she tells him a way to contact her. He also earns a new codename, 023. There is clearly more unsaid with each other but time is ticking and they must go.

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Outside the night club, Bi Zhong Liang and his men arrives. Qiu Xia tries to leave just as they enter and she looks suspicious enough that Er Bao fires at her. This creates a chaos in the club as Bi Zhong Liang screams at his men not to shoot her, Qiu Xia runs with her leg injured, and all while Chen Shen helplessly watches.

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Qiu Xia manages to jump out of the building but it isn’t long until they corner her. Er Bao fires at her to make her stop, and it hits her in the stomach. Bi Zhong Liang is enraged as he orders her to be taken to the hospital. She must alive, or else. It takes everything for Chen Shen to control his expression as he watches the men capture his sister-in-law, but he calms down enough to greet Bi Zhong Liang cheerily.

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Chen Shen wonders alouds if “the woman” is from the Communist or Nationalist party, but Bi Zhong Liang just chides him for leaving work. They banter a little, but as soon as Bi Zhong Liang leaves, Chen Shen just stares at the bloodied wall. He tells himself that his trial has truly begun, and prays that his sister-in-law would survive the gunshot.

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The rest of the night club goers are herded as Er Bao interrogates them. On the first floor, Bi Zhong Liang and Chen Shen watches. We learn the dynamics of their relationship. Bi Zhong Liang is the nagging older brother, who scolds him for not being able to drink alcohol (Chen Shen prefers soda) and only meeting dancers and entertainers.

They leave once they find all the suspicious ones, including one who has spoken to Qiu Xia at the bar earlier. Before Chen Shen leaves though, he glances at Xiao Nan, who has fainted after seeing Qiu Xia shot. He just leaves her be.

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Inside his office, Chen Shen thinks about all the men who appears to be with Qiu Xia earlier. Of those, a few were definitely captured by Bi Zhong Liang’s men. Despite his anxiety, he must keep his appearance as the aloof team leader. His bumbling sidekick Bian Tou tells him they caught a big fish, as the elusive Sparrow is also her subordinate.

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He gets ordered to the interrogation room, where he asks if someone needs to get their hair cut (apparently that’s his skill). Bi Zhong Liang tells him to be serious, but Chen Shen just tells him to simply pick one men to be the scapegoat and do away with the rest. Bi Zhong Liang snaps and says he knows that, and that he feels embarrassed for having someone like Chen Shen under his wing, lol.

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Chen Shen offers to go check on Qiu Xia for him, but once he leaves, the mood changes. Er Bao asks if Bi Zhong Liang is suspicious of Chen Shen. He has noticed the way one of the men has been looking at Chen Shen, and tells Er Bao to tail him. He also interrogates the most suspicious men of the captured club-goers, who pleads his innocence.

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Chen Shen orders his team to secure the hospital and takes in all possible escape routes and obstacles as he enters to see Qiu Xia. She is still weak, but as long as she is not dying, the order is to bring her back to the Bureau for interrogation. Per another leader’s suggestion, he call Bi Zhong Liang for approval to move her.

But we see that he has set a plan into motion to save Qiu Xia. Earlier, he has gotten chemical explosives from a friend, which he has planted in all the optimal places in the hospital. It seems like an impossible mission, as Bi Zhong Liang is on his way to the hospital and already suspicious about his involvement.


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Ryu: I like this, a lot. The first episode had everything going for it – style, action, emotion and some of the most on-point music cue. But this is not an episode that highlights the main character for me. I am much more intrigued by Bi Zhong Liang. He doesn’t feel like a villain who is evil for the sake of being evil and I am charmed by him even though he is supposedly the bad guy. Doesn’t help that Edward Zhang is absolutely killing it, especially how he portrayed the two sides of Bi Zhong Liang: one that handles prisoners with matter-of-fact cruelty and the one who chides his little brother for not achieving more in life.

I feel especially wary about his relationship with Chen Shen. I feel doomed because I’m already rooting for Chen Shen and Bi Zhong Liang’s bromance. They are so cute together, with Bi Zhong Liang being the nagging older brother and Chen Shen being the mischievous younger brother. It looks superficial, yes, with Bi Zhong Liang quick to suspect Chen Shen of being a spy and Chen Shen admitting he has no love for traitors. But with the insight of having watched up to the latest episode, I really feel like they do care for each other on a personal level – just not in this setup.

I just realised I’m not sure who Sparrow is after going through this episode again. I always thought it was Chen Shen, being the main character and all. He also fits the bill of being Qiu Xia’s subordinate. But then he refers to Sparrow in third person, so it might not be him after all. Or is it? Is the show psyching me or is my Chinese understanding just crap? (Despite my love for Republican spy dramas, I’m often confused about the terms, like whether someone is supposed to be from the Nationalist or Communist party, aka the sometimes-ally and the ultimate good guys.)

  1. 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

    Loving the Recap! I never thought I would be into Chinese Spy Dramas but this drama has amazed me. The scrip writing is definitely on point in this show!

    • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

      If you like this, you should really try The Disguiser. It’s phenomenal and the brotherhood is actually genuine and real there. It’s still too early to say if Sparrow will just be as good (although it’s promising!) but The Disguiser is completely amazing, acting and plot-wise.

      • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

        Oooh I’ve been wanting to watch it! Definitely on my next to watch list

  2. 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

    I love your recap. Reading it felt like watching the ep again. I have an idea who it might be..but I am not sure yet..At first, I also thought that it might be Chen Shen, but the person, I am believing it to be, is female.
    This is definitely one Chinese drama with a great script. I hope it will continue this way throughout the drama.

    • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

      Thank you 😀

      In spy dramas, the really good spies like Sparrow are often double or even triple agents so it’s a wild guess at this point if it’s not Chen Shen. I have a feeling it will be someone completely unexpected.

  3. 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

    Thanks for the recap!

    I’m pretty sure Sparrow is Chen Shen and that he has no clue that it’s him. Probably another tactic they’re using to protect him. Also, did you realize Shen Qiuxia mentions someone named “Shanhai” here? I haven’t been able to figure out who she’s referring to. Tang Shanhai? Or another guy who’s coincidentally named Shanhai as well?

    • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

      You are absolutely right! How did I miss that? I thought Qiu Xia was referring to Chen Shen’s brother but it’s really Shan Hai (it’s the same Chinese characters too). There are no such thing as coincidences in dramas, so it must be him. He could be a double-agent. But why didn’t Chen Shen recognise the name when he first met Shan Hai? (SPOILER) He later learns that Shan Hai is from the Nationalist party, and he didn’t put two and two together? Does he know or not? Oh god, I have so many conspiracy theories running in my mind right now.

      • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

        OMG, a Sparrow recaps!! Ryu, thank you very much!! I dont understand Chinese language, so I really depend on recaps in order to understand it. I read one in other website, but I dunno how long she will continue. Thank you so much!

        Yeah, I also wonder whether Sparrow is Chen Shen or not. He seemed like Sparrow because :
        1. Chen Shen’s sister in law tried so hard to protect him
        2. Until the part that I’ve watched, he didnt received any other mission than the one he received in epi 1.
        3. He has the same mission as Sparrow : to obtain a secret document

        Then again, perhaps he is NOT Sparrow because :
        1. He has a code name 023. If he is Sparrow, then why should he have 2 code names?
        2. Like what Ryu said in the recaps, Chen Said that sparrow had been a help. I have to rewatch epi 1 in viki with subs, since I didnt remember him saying that. Must have missed that part.

        Anyway, @chasingpolaris’s theory is interesting , regarding Sparrow was Chen Shen himself, but he didnt realize it. Perhaps the communist made him unaware of his own identity, in order to protect him.

        And, my question is, who IS the Sparrow? I dont remember the series talked about it a lot, besides that the Sparrow was supposed to get a secret document. How come Zhongling/ pro Japanese/other Chinese agents know about him/her too? What has the Sparrow do?

        Thanks again for the recaps and discussions!

        • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

          Hi Luna!

          Here is my theory on the code name Sparrow:

          I think Qiu Xia gave him the code name 023 to use a decoy. Only he knows he’s 023. Right now, he thinks Sparrow is someone else. That’s why he is able to do the things that he does and act like he doesn’t have a care in the world. He has the mission of the finding the document and also protecting Pi Pi. Imagine if he had been told that he is Sparrow. On top of the two things he has to do, he would also have to look out for people who may know he is Sparrow, make sure every step that he takes does not put them in danger (not that he doesn’t do this now but so far only Shen Qiu Xia from his side has been caught and he’s been saving Bicheng a lot), and that’s a lot of burden for him to carry. I feel like telling him he’s Sparrow would just complicate things. No one knows who Sparrow is right now, even Bi Zhongliang is looking for this person. The most dangerous place is also the safest place. Putting Sparrow right under Bi Zhongliang’s nose is a good tactic.

          Qiu Xia says that there are sparrows everywhere. I’m thinking there’s only one true Sparrow and that they have multiple people working under this identity. Maybe another tactic to confuse their enemies?

          That’s all I have for now. Whoever has read the book, I hope you come and prove me wrong lol.

        • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

          Hi Chasingpolaris/everyone,

          I’ve rewatched epi 1-2 on viki with subs *lol*. Well, the translation was quite different with the one here.If we are using that as a reference, then Chen Shen is the Sparrow and he also knows that he is one. The reasons are :
          – The subtitle translated his words like this,”There’s a lot of intelligence report on Sparrow” .
          – In epi 2, Shihua refused to be saved by Chen Shen and said that,”My job here is to activate you”. While in the beginning of epi 1, she said the Sparrow would fly again (something like that). Then, Chen Shen said that he had been waiting for orders from the organization for 3 years. Based on these, then it’s clear that Chen Shen is the Sparrow who has been infiltrating Zhongliang’s organization for at least 3 years, waiting for new orders while doing his old order .

          Regarding the Code Name 023, I agree with chasingpolaris that this new Code Name could be used as a decoy / is to protect him. And yeah, I also noticed that Shihua meant Shanhai. Which Shanhai?? It should be a different one than Zhang Ruo Yan, coz Zhang Ruo Yan isn’t part of the Communist, right ? (except that if he is a double agent). Plus, if he is the Shanhai that Shihua mentioned, then Chen SHen should have been suspected of him since the beginning. Yes, it could be another Code Name.

          What do you guys, think?? I don’t understand Chinese, so I dunno how to translate their words *lol*

        • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

          Luna, I think the Viki’s translation is wrong. I rewatched the scene and Chen Shen said this: “Sparrow has gotten a lot of information. The Japanese are having a headache over this” and not “There’s a lot of intelligence report on Sparrow”. It wouldn’t make sense story-wise too, since Sparrow is supposed to be elusive.

        • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

          Hi, Ryu!

          Thanks for explaining the different translation. Yes, there’s a possibility of Chen Shen not being the Sparrow, if he said a different thing than the one translated at viki.

          Well, until now, I still tend to believe that Chen Shen is the Sparrow, because of how Shihua tried hard to protect him. It’s just weird, if she insisted on having him as a spy there, if there’s already another person as the real Sparrow.

          Regarding him mentioning the Sparrow as a 3rd party, could it be that it was just a ‘habit’ as a secret agent (instead of using ‘I’, he used his code name instead) ?

          And, I’m considering the possibility that Shihua herself didn’t know who the Sparrow was, so Chen Shen was the one who hid it from her. Then again, she held a high position in the organization so, I think the possibility is small.

      • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

        I’m wondering if Shan Hai is also a code name for someone on their side and that’s why Chen Shen didn’t think think twice when he met Tang Shan Hai. That’s the only thing I can come up with.

        • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

          If it’s indeed a code name for someone on their side, then he would have understood Tang Shan Hai’s allegiance to be with Communist party instead of the Nationalist party. But he’s not, and he continues to be cautious about him. And in one of the episodes, he actually wonders how he should deal with Shan Hai, who he finds a potentially more dangerous enemy than Bi Zhong Liang, when they both have to compete for the secret plan.

        • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

          Viki translated her words as ‘Shenhai’, not ‘Shanhai’. Just wondering, whether it sounded / was written differently 😀 . If it was, then no wonder Chen Shen considered them as different people.

    • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

      She mentioned ‘Shanhai’?? When?? Ah, I have to rewatch epi 1 with subs 🙁 . But Shanhai Zhang Ruo Yan is not from the same party as Qiu xia and Chen Shen

  4. 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

    Please continue doing recaps for Sparrow! They are so good and helpful! 🙂

    • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

      I’ll recap the show for as long as I have the time to do so. Real life responsibilities suck, and this is an insane 60-episode-long show. Sigh.

  5. 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

    Thank you so very much for your recap of the drama Sparrow. Very grateful for the recap as I cannot watch the drama.
    I hope you will continue to do the recap for the following episodes of the drama.
    Thanks again.

  6. 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

    I’m enjoying this drama a lot. i really like Tang shang hai’s character, but zhou dong yu’s acting is not very good, i’m surprised no one has caught her out yet, because she always looks so scared when you should have a poke face.

    • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

      But she is scared. Xu Bicheng is a naive and weak-minded girl who’s on her first undercover assignment and has no idea how to handle herself in most situations. If she was an experienced agent, then I’d expect her to sport the poker face, but she’s obviously a newbie and the type of character that is expected to mature in this series.

      From the comments that I’ve read about Zhou Dongyu’s acting, there’s a lot of mixed reactions. Some people find her to be too “poker faced” while others think she’s portraying the innocent, weak Bicheng very well.

      • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

        I like her acting so far, dunno why. I also think that she portrayed the innocent Bicheng very well. For example, when she made mistakes, she became panic and she turned to Chen Shen/Shanhai for help. Then, we saw that she literally followed their words, like a student following her teachers advices 😀 . I just felt that she did the innocent inexperience part well.

    • 23 thoughts on “Sparrow: Episode 1 “Flightless.”

      The only reason why I’m not completely signing off Xu Bi Cheng’s character is because of how good I find Zhou Dong Yu to be (granted, I have been a fan for awhile). I think it’s entirely the character to be blamed here, because she is not meant to be a spy. She was there to be Shan Hai’s decoy, and she would probably be among the lowest ranks in the party if it weren’t for her status as Li Mo Qun’s relative. Zhou Dong Yu portrays her panic very well I think, because the character is indeed panicking in this highly dangerous game of wits.

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