Author Topic: Fagara (花椒之味) (2019)  (Read 785 times)

Offline westendboy

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Fagara (花椒之味) (2019)
« on: September 13, 2019, 15:17 »

There’s hope for Hong Kong’s cinema yet. Fagara passed our acid test with flying colours – throughout the 30-minute journey home, the missus and I were discussing the movie animatedly, drawing on parallels with our lives and little nuggets of nuances continued to surface. This is a gem and truly the first good film from Hong Kong this year that isn’t an action genre flick.

The story pivots and pirouettes on Acacia (Sammi Cheng), a travel agent in Hong Kong who discovers she has two half-sisters after her estranged father Ha Leung (Kenny Bee) suddenly dies. One is Branch (Megan Lai), an androgynous professional snooker player in Taiwan, and the other is fashionista v-blogger Cherry (Li Xiaofeng), living in China. They meet at their father’s funeral and a journey of self-discovery ensues.

I was pleasantly surprised by the opening scene which features a telephone conversation between a world weary looking Sammi Cheng and a two-timing customer. It wasn’t what was said that confounded me; it was the fact that the entire conversation was in Cantonese that put a smile on my face. Finally, a Hong Kong movie that was left unmolested by the MDA (the Media Development Authority) and the Cantonese language sounded like music to my ears. Frankly, my government’s insistence on dubbing all films and programmes that come from Hong Kong to mandarin has outlived its objectives. It’s high time to leave these films untouched.

Hong Kong writer-director Heiward Mak’s last mainstream hit was Love in a Puff (2010), a quirky look at modern romance, which she co-wrote. With Fagara, she has ascended a new level. With a drama about three sisters coming together after the sudden death of their father from three different mothers, it wouldn’t be out of place for it to be emotionally coercive, but Mak demonstrates sublime restraint and astute instincts to steer the narrative in a different direction.

Fagara doesn’t rush out of the blocks to tell its heartfelt story. Mak allows the newly-acquainted half-sisters to live and breathe, filling the scenes they are in with authenticity and authority. These are not soft and malleable women; they are their own women, owing no explanations for the paths they have chosen in life, giving the movie a wonderful freshness, relevance and clarity.

There is a focus on character detail, with the doling out of exposition and backstory happening throughout the course of the movie in luminous flashbacks. There are no weak characters here and the casting is exquisite. Sammi Cheng, without a smidgen of glamour, does the heavy lifting, and she is a revelation. Her weariness is palpable and her vulnerability permeates her entire being. Megan Lai and Li Xiaofeng fill their scenes with humility and humanism too. Using these well-drawn characters in their own spheres, Mak is making a point with the modern women who owe no one for the choices they make in life.

The writing is peppered with many life-affirming gems and most of the time they are delivered by Richie Jen and Andy Lau cameos. There is also much humour rendered by a cockroach and the kitchen.

Fagara is a well-crafted story of three half-sisters looking back into their painful pasts in order to venture forward into their futures with revitalised hope. It is filled with many nuances and it allows you the time to tease out its narrative subtleties on your own. Instead of ramming into your solar plexus, it gracefully touches you with its strong flavours and deep reds and browns. The whole thing actually feels like a Hirokazu Kore-eda meditation on the splintered family, and I mention Kore-eda’s name with deep respect for Heiward Mak’s craft.

4 / 5

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