Sunday, September 15, 2019


I think Fagara is one of the bigger local releases in Hong Kong this year; it was getting prominent placement on the Hong Kong film times app that is still hanging around on my phone when I checked it for other reasons a month ago, and maybe more. It's got Sammi Cheng, who is a big deal there, although it reminds me that not enough folks have seen her and Andy Lau in Blind Detective here. There's good folks involved, with director Heiward Mak an up-and-comer who has worked on a number of varied projects, from co-writing Men Suddenly in Black 2 when just out of college, to working with Pang Ho-Cheung on Love in a Puff, to last year's crazy action movie The Golden Job, to this, produced by Ann Hui. That's a bit of everything with everyone.

It's a good movie, and one built to play well throughout the Chinas, even if that means having the Hong Kong-based characters speaking Mandarin. I am mildly curious about a thing or two that could have had it skirting China's censorship issues, most notably that middle daughter Branch seems like she might be gay - she's in a career where that's not unusual, her obsessed fan is female, and her family half-talks about finding a partner but also lets it go. It seems to be part of Megan Lai's performance even if they can't say it.

Hua jiao zhi wei (Fagara)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 September 2019 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, DCP)

Fagara is the sort of small family drama whose story has been told more than a few times - who hasn't discovered their father had a secret life after he passed away - but is just better enough at it on most counts that it actually winds up fairly impressive. It's so well put together that director Heiward Mak Hei-Yan can dispense with much of what other movies would use to prop it up.

In this case, the daughter is Acacia Ha (Sammi Cheng Sau-Man), who is not quite estranged from her father Ha Leung (Kenny Bee) but doesn't cross Hong Kong's harbor very often to see him, either, at least not until one of the employees at his restaurant calls urgently from the hospital; by the time she gets there, he's passed on. When going through the contacts on his phone, she discovers that two of them also call him "Dad" - Branch Au Yeung (Megan Lai Ya-Yan), a professional billiards player in Taiwan, and Cherry Ha (Li Xiaofeng), a fashion blogger in Chongqing. She gives them the news and invites them to the funeral, and though wary, they soon bond over their father's famous fagara hot pot. Unfortunately, that hot pot is a secret recipe, and the restaurant has a year to go on a lease Acacia can't afford to break.

Mak does a neat thing in one of the early scenes, when Acacia is working as a travel agent and has to book a trip that a businessman is taking with his secretary; a sequence of disapproving acquiescence that establishes this sort of adultery as normalized. It makes it a little easier to come out of the hurt and shock of Acacia finding out she has two half-sisters without needing to spend much time judging or explaining their father. It's there, in the way people ask questions at the funeral, but mostly it plays as an important factor in who the women are now. It's worth noting that what might be romantic subplots in other films are held a bit at arm's length, the audience not quite sure what to make of Acacia's two potential suitors or Cherry's seemingly complete disinterest in having one; if Leung and the women he abandoned did damage them, it's not something that will be cathartically remedied after his death.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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