A sumptuously lensed, Hong Kong neo-meller about a dying man’s date with memory, “Metade fumaca” is as smart, seductive and knowingly hip as its adopted Portuguese title. Writer-director Riley Ip takes a big step into the spotlight with this assured sophomore outing, which drew good notices locally late last year and rates as one of the territory’s sleekest recent productions. Fests in search of accessible but stylish fare could give this one a spin.
Pic is shot through with the recognizable house style of UFO, best known for Peter Chan movies of the early/mid-’90s such as “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man” and “Comrades, Almost a Love Story.” Ip’s pic has the same blend of highly worked visuals, criss-crossing stories of the tricks time plays on relationships, and a neo-romantic atmosphere boosted by topline talent and cameo names. Film is UFO’s first with H.K. major Media Asia — after previously being associated with Golden Harvest — with no discernible change in quality or style.
Title, which is Portuguese for “half-smoked,” refers to an unconsummated love affair long ago, symbolized by unfinished cigarettes in an ashtray. The memory haunts Roy (Eric Tsang), who returns to Hong Kong after almost 30 years in Brazil to settle an old grudge before he dies from Alzheimer’s. Claiming to be a former gangster known as Mountain Leopard, he enlists the help of a young street punk, Smokey (Nicholas Tse), to find a former enemy, Nine Dragons (Chan Wai-min).
Back in the ’70s, the two vied over a mysterious beauty (Shu Qi), and the young Nine Dragons (Sam Lee), losing out, shot Roy (Stephen Fung) in the back and dumped him on a boat to Brazil. Or at least, that is how Roy tells it. Smokey discovers the truth is somewhat different.
Once the story starts rolling, much of the pic is taken up with the two protagonists — an aging hustler and a younger one — getting to know each other, with a colorful collection of characters (Sandra Ng’s witty triad boss, Anthony Wong’s teller of tall stories) decorating the sidelines. Gradually, the odd couple find common ground in their aspirations: Roy still harbors memories of his dream woman, Smokey has an equally romantic yearning for a female cop (Kelly Chen) who once arrested him — and even Smokey’s mom (Elaine Jin), a former hooker, still scans the horizon for the man who fathered her son.
Rather like UFO’s 1998 “Anna Magdalena,” also memorably lensed by top d.p. Peter Pau and edited by Maurice Li, the movie is suffused with a romantic melancholia that will either hook Western viewers or alienate them. Ip’s well-wrought script provides plenty of character interplay for its experienced cast, among whom the young Tse acquits himself well, and the tumblers fall satisfyingly into place in the final reel as past and present are reconciled. Brazilian scenes were actually shot in Cuernavaca, Mexico.