Metade Fumaca (1999)

March 16, 2003 • Film, hong kong

Country: Hong Kong
Director: Riley Yip Kam-Hung
Producer: John Chong Ching, Solon So Chi-Hung, Claudie Chung Chun

Cast: Nicholas Tse (Ting Fung), Eric Tsang Chi-Wai, Shu Qi (Hsu Chi, Shu Kei), Jo Kuk Cho-Lam, Sandra Ng Kwun-Yu, Michael Chan, Stephen Fung, Sam Lee, Terence Yin, Kelly Chan, Anthony Wong, Elaine Gam, Cheung Tat Ming, Tony Ho, Vincent Wan, Vincent Kok

Running Time: 101 min.

Plot: Roy comes back to Hong Kong after spending 30 years in Brazil. Despite having Alzheimer’s, he holds a half smoked cigarette in his pack because it was a memento from the girl he loved. Upon arrival, he meets a rascal named Smokey, who is trying to find out who his father is and is always videotaping a policewoman, with who he has an infatuation for. The two form a lasting friendship as they try to help each other out in their quests.

UFO is the independent Hong Kong film company started by director Peter Chan and cinema jack-of-all-trades Eric Tsang (Tsang has been an actor, producer, director, writer just of late, one of the founding board of directors of Cinema City way back when, and, seemingly in another life, a champion soccer player). Since its inception, UFO has catered to those who like small stories, largely dealing with characters who are part of some group or other that has been disenfranchised or misrepresented in modern Hong Kong. He’s a Woman, She’s a Man and its sequel featured gay and lesbian characters in important parts (though the case could be made that their treatment of these characters is less than flattering), Comrades, Almost a Love Story addressed the problems mainland Chinese immigrants faced as outsiders in contemporary Hong Kong, and this film deals with the problems of the elderly, most especially focusing on living in the fast-paced world of Hong Kong with altzheimer’s disease. The UFO movies generally feature a talented cast, unusual writing, and some surprising visual and story coups within a deceptively simple film structure. UFO films are synonymous with quality production. And I wish I could say that, in Hong Kong film today, UFO films are the truly great stuff.

Their highwater mark was Comrades, Almost a Love Story, which was intelligent, charming, and consistently focused. And Metade Fumaca is one of the better UFO films. But like too many movies from the company, it suffers from throwing so many story elements together that the end result is a jumbled mess. While this movie is peppered with lovely little sequences, and filled out with Eric Tsang and Nicholas Tse’s robust performances, it doesn’t quite hold together, and the fact that even the most central aspects of the film are almost completely unresolved at the end of the picture is, unfortunately, an indication of just how disjointed the different parts of the movie are.

Basically, we follow Eric Tsang through the picture. He is returning to Hong Kong after 25 or 30 years in Brazil, with a fake hairpiece, an airline bag crammed full of US dollars, and a gun with a single bullet in it. Just as he arrives, he meets Nicholas Tse, who is in the middle of stabbing a man who tried to take advantage of a local prostitute. Eric is somehow inspired by this feat, and enlists Nicholas in his quest to kill an old rival, Nine Dragons, and to find the woman Eric saw once in a bar and who Eric has been mesmerized with ever since. During the course of the adventure, many cigarettes are lit (the title can be translated to “cigarette butts”), and Nic and Eric run into a whole lot of blustery triads of all ages, some of whom are all talk and some of whom mean business. In fact, a giant amount of supporting characters are involved in this fiasco. The director adds many neat visual touches to the film, including a purely wonderful sense of color and some nicely done flashbacks of various sorts. And there is an admirable sense of fun in this potentially violent story, as our heroes repeatedly solve their problems through inventive (and funny) means rather than through violence. Ultimately, though, the various characters and their subplots are not really kept track of enough for the characters do develop too much. Only Eric and Nicholas manage to create full-bodies performances. If they were exclusively the focus of the film, that might have made the whole film stronger, but here, with so many disparate voices screaming for attention, the two actors only succeed in rising above the rabble. The result is a pretty good movie, but not the great one it might have been.

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