Metade Fumaca



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.

Eric Tsang, Nicholas Tse and Hsu Chi
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).
Terence Yin and Jo Kuk
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.
Sandra Ng and Kelly Chan

My rating for the film:  7.



DVD Information:

Distributed by Universe

The transfer is excellent.

Letterboxed

Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks

8 Chapters

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.