Half-sisters choose who they want as family

Hong Konger Acacia (Sammi Cheng, centre) discovers her "half-sisters" - Cherry (Li Xiaofeng, left) from China and Branch (Megan Lai, right) from Taiwan - when they show up at her father's funeral in Fagara.
Hong Konger Acacia (Sammi Cheng, centre) discovers her "half-sisters" - Cherry (Li Xiaofeng, left) from China and Branch (Megan Lai, right) from Taiwan - when they show up at her father's funeral in Fagara.PHOTO: FILMGARDE CINEPLEXES

REVIEW / DRAMA

FAGARA (PG)

118 minutes/Opens today

3.5 stars

The story: Travel agent Acacia (Sammi Cheng) is soured on love as in her line of work, she sees men heading to foreign lands to cheat on their wives. With the death of her estranged father Ha Leung (Kenny Bee), she inherits his hot pot restaurant. She wants to shut it down for good, partly to spite her father, who had abandoned the family in Hong Kong to seek his fortune - and a new family - in Taiwan. Then, two strange women show up at his funeral - Cherry (Li Xiaofeng) from China and Branch (Megan Lai) from Taiwan - both claiming to be her half-sisters.

Food and family are seen through the eyes of a cynic, Acacia, but in movies like these, a softening is all but assured.

The question is, will the journey be a sentimental, manipulative mess, or will it feel real and heartfelt?

Thankfully, Hong Kong director-writer Heiward Mak's instincts steer her towards authenticity.

The film-maker, who co-wrote the well-received romance Love In A Puff (2010 starring Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung), lets the relationships among the newly acquainted half-sisters breathe and find their natural rhythms.

It helps that each is stamped with a strong personality. Acacia is the hard-nosed one, Cherry the adorably vain social media star while Branch is androgynous, with a gender preference that is not made clear.

It is one thing to create a crime thriller that ropes in stars from the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, all playing cops finding common cause in a mission to catch or kill the bad guys. Cross-border police operations lend plausibility to cross-border film productions.

However, it is another thing to craft a story with a family crisis that causes three women, total strangers to one another, to come together.

In this respect, the movie succeeds, mostly because of the degree of care taken with each woman's background, which is rooted in concerns peculiar to their age, class and society.

Cherry, for example, has a nagging grandmother who fears her grandchild will be one of China's "left behind" women. The grandmother tries to help, including going to parks where anxious parents hang banners advertising their children's desirability as mates.

Mak is making a point with Cherry's cheerful indifference to worries about being left on the shelf, Branch's ambiguous preferences and Acacia's wary approaches to an old flame (played by Andy Lau in a cameo) and a new acquaintance (Richie Jen).

These women owe no one, least of all their elders, an explanation for the paths they have chosen. And that includes how each is free to choose who she wants as family.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2019, with the headline 'Half-sisters choose who they want as family'. Print Edition | Subscribe