Reviewed by YTSL
Star names -- including those of Cheung Tat
Ming, Sam Lee, Stephen Fung and Hsu Chi -- and uncredited cameo appearances
-- notably by Michael Chan but apparently also by Vincent Wan, Vincent
Kuk and a young actor who had an amusing role in "King of Comedy" -- abound
in this 1999 United Filmmakers Organization-Golden Harvest production which
has yearning, remembering and forgetting as its main themes. Along
with Eric Tsang and Nicholas Tse though, the film's other undoubted star
is Hong Kong itself. Especially when lensed -- like in a couple of
other visually engaging UFO offerings (i.e., "Anna Magdalena" and "And
I Hate You So") -- by Peter Pau, the featured physical terrain comes off
looking attractively as well as appropriately atmospheric.
METADE FUMACA is one of those works that the Hong
Kong Tourism Association ought to fund (or at least sponsor), seeing as
it sends off siren calls to the like of this (re)viewer and make them want
to head to that corner of East Asia to do not particularly exciting but
still fulfilling things like walk along Nathan Road, stroll through the
Temple Street night market and hang out in the kind of Mongkok eateries
where Triads and Formica are present in equal measures. Some may
think this somewhat ironic that I'm stating this about a movie that begins
in Brazil (and incorporates a few Brazilian elements, notably in its pulsating
music score, in even those parts of the film that occurs outside of the
land of flamenco and Ronaldo).
However, when it is borne in mind that the wistful
mood piece's primary character is a native Hong Konger who only returns
to his home territory after spending thirty years in that distant South
American land, I think it becomes apparent that the film -- whose Portugese
title phrase translates as "Half Smoked" -- can only be helped by some
time being spent showing him as well as others (including its audience)
what of Hong Kong has changed -- and considerably so in the time he has
been away -- versus what remain recognizable after the passing of three
decades. Additionally, when the individual in question is shown to
not have the clearest of memories as well as is found to be given to either
elaborating or twisting truths, or even downright lying, what ensues is
the kind of romanticized mixing of fantasy with reality that can come across
as fascinatingly quixotic rather than plain frustrating or downright pathetic.
Viewed through other than smokey, rose-tinted
glasses, METADE FUMACA is peopled by low-life losers. The returning
Mountain Leopard is an old-fashioned, aging, toupee-wearing, generally
physically unattractive Triad (The short length and rotund shape of Eric
Tsang's body seems to get emphasized whenever the opportunity arises; ditto
re the actor's small eyes and his face's flattish contours). Smokey
-- whom the sometimes disorientated older man enlists him in his stated
mission to find an old enemy known as Nine Dragons and the woman they fought
over -- is a handsome enough young man (He does, after all, come in the
form of Nicholas Tse). However, he is weighed down by: Debts
that he can only offer to pay in installments (to the obvious displeasure
of the bullying Brother Choi who Terrence Yin slimily plays); a secret
love he surreptitiously videotapes but doesn't dare approach (Kelly Chan
in one more uniformed cameo appearance!); and a strong yearning to learn
the identity of his father that is matched by his ex-hooker mother's bid
to remember who it was that she slept with for only a half-smoked cigarette's
amount of time but nonetheless is her child's pater (Elaine Kam makes another
of her memorable appearances as a maternal figure).
Then there are the old Triads, who don't seem
to do much more than try to stay with it by dyeing their hair and dressing
up in gaudy clothing, socialize with one another and tell tall tales to
whoever seems interested (Anthony Wong stands out among these men).
Perhaps most pathetic of all are the ill-educated youth -- who don't know
what El Nino is when they see it mentioned in newspapers -- who aspire
to follow in their footsteps and gain fame and some kind of respect (or
failing that, just be feared by others).
Yet there's a certain magic in METADE FUMACA that
can make one look less askance -- and more with amusement -- at certain
individuals plus be heartened by this same depicted world also containing
such personalities as 3rd Sister, a formidable gangland leader who appears
genuinely interested in selling, reading and getting others to read books
(appropriately portrayed by Sandra Ng) as well as the quiet Dee Dee (Jo
Kuk plays her as a shy, sweet and spirited character). This alchemy
is also at work in making many of this leisurely paced movie's scenes,
including those involving as diverse elements as shooting stars and the
shared smoking of cigarettes, into ones which gives the (re)viewer pleasure
along with pause. All told, this Riley Ip helmed offering is one
which is a bit rough around the edges but most definitely has enough soul
and heart to endear it to those who are willing to allow it to slowly but
surely weave its spell over them.
My rating for the film: 7.
Distributed by Universe
The transfer is excellent.
Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks
The subtitles are Chinese or English.
There are two trailers for this film - and
ones for Gen-X Cops and Purple Storm.
There are Star Files on Hsu Chi, Eric Tsang,
Nicholas Tse, Sam Lee, Stephen Fung.