Portuguese revisit Macau in soap opera

Diogo Infante

Portuguese film crew is currently in Macau to film a part of a new Portuguese TV drama.

Produced by Plural Entertainment for the television station TVI, the soap opera stars several famous Portuguese actors and actresses.  Local independent production company Inner Harbour Films is co-producing the filming in Macau.

The soap opera, “Condição Humana” (Human Condition), is expected to start being broadcast in Portugal next month. For the part filmed in Macau, the Portuguese company brought a small team of around 10 to 11 people to pair with a larger local team of around 20 to 25 people, who are in charge of most of the production work behind the scenes, which will be filmed over six days in several locations across town. The scenes will open the first episodes of the series.

Questioned on the sidelines of the shoot at MGM Macau about the challenges of filming in the region, production director Hugo de Sousa said, “First it is very far and it requires [mental adjustment] time due to time zone [differences] but then [these are] normal issues, we know about the heat, the humidity, but we are used to that from other places in the world.”

Another of the barriers encountered by de Sousa was related to the language. “The language can be a barrier because everything takes a little more time as we have people speaking Portuguese, English and Chinese [both Mandarin and Cantonese] so sometimes on the set things get a little confusing as there isn’t [unlike in normal circumstances] one voice that is of the director. In this case I’ll have to start passing information that reaches all places, and that makes it a bit more time-consuming.”

On the positive side, de Sousa said it is helpful to work with a local production team as they help with some details that are obvious to the locals, but might pass unnoticed by people coming from around the world.

The director confessed that after visiting Macau one month before shooting, they received different ideas “from the local feeling” of the city, and decided to talk to the script author.  This was mainly to change some of the context in order to film more night scenes, as he believes “Macau to have a special feeling during nighttime,” namely in the central area surrounding Hotel Lisboa, which he believes has a “very strong image.”

He also said he wanted to “steer away from the ‘Las Vegas’ image” of Macau. “What people haven’t seen yet is this image of the more traditional Macau, the temples, the street names in both languages [Portuguese and Chinese], the use of the Portuguese-style tiles… these are the details that enrich [the content] and the story that I have to tell.”

The Times spoke with several actors from the cast. One of the most prominent is senior actor Diogo Infante – now on his third visit to the region, after previous visits for theater plays in 2001 and 2012. Infante spoke about his role and challenges as “Manuel Wuang,” a triad leader whose war with rivals eventually forces him to move to Portugal.

As Infante explained, “The fact that the story starts here is also an excuse to show these places where we [Portuguese] have a presence, to those that do not know it and at the same time provide a different framing and scenery from what we are used to.”

Commenting on the story, Infante said that it does not aim to portray any kind of reality, even historical, but instead aims to make use of “the poetic freedom of the fiction to adjust realities to what is convenient to the story.”

“It’s a way we actors ‘play’ to the ‘pretend to be’ that is our main role […] I think we are in condition to do great work with the help of this amazing scenery and with the local team that has been fantastic,” he added, explaining the work he did to play this part.

“Besides […] having to investigate a little about this reality of the triads and what they represent, and also to have some [temporary tattoos done], I mostly had to learn some Cantonese, which has been the really hard part. This is a very, very hard task. The trick we usually use is to have someone [native] that usually whispers the line in the moment before recording and I just repeat it. It is a very hard language but I’m giving [this] my best shot and trying not to fake it.”

On the topic of the developments of the city and communities since 2001, Infante said: “I’m happy that the Portuguese that stayed had the possibility to do so and to be integrated into the job market. […] In fact, I can say I don’t feel lost here, it’s a mixed feeling, like half at home and another half in another planet.”

Above all, he said, “I feel that we are well received here and that’s the most important part: to always try to honor that piece of history that in some way we all carry [in] our imagination at least.”

Questioned by the Times on the need to continue showing Macau to Portugal and to the rest of world, the actor said: “I think most of us [Portuguese] have fantasized about what former colonies look like and through these fictional stories, we can also give a more clear idea [of] how the places look nowadays. Of course [we] will never be able to show a correct version of the historical events.”

Also in the cast are two other well-known actors, Sara Prata and João Catarré. Visiting Macau for the first time, both said they were amazed and thrilled to be here.

Catarré echoed the “big challenge” of having to speak several times in Cantonese in order to perform his character, João Guerra, a Portuguese man that lived many years in the territory and who – together with Margarida Barbosa, played by Prata – form the lovers around which the story of encounters and mismatches revolves.

Prata noted they were pleased to discover the real Macau and to discard some of the preconceptions she had. “I was thinking that I would feel much more the pressure of an ‘overloaded’ place with a very high density of people,” she remarked, noting that this did not happen. In particular, she finds “the contrast among the narrow alleys and the tall buildings” interesting and fun.

One thing that both actors also noted was the production director’s comment on the contrast between day and night in Macau – in which all agree that the region, “at night is very different; the neon, the sign boards.”

They described it as something different and worth the experience, with Prata stating, “with the screening of the soap opera, I think some people would feel interest and would like to come and get to know Macau better.”

Soap opera debutant Luis Nascimento, a Macau-born Portuguese now living in Portugal, will play an important role as one of the archrivals of Manuel Wuang (Zhu) and is one of the “bad guys.”

Nascimento also noted the challenge of the language. “I’m probably the only person of my whole family that doesn’t speak Cantonese,” he said, but noted that he has a clear advantage when compared to the other actors as he “grew [up] listening [to] the language and I understand part of it. Besides, my mother [is] also a native speaker and she is giving me a big hand in [pronouncing] the lines.”

The actor said he often returns to the territory as he has several family members still residing in Macau, and mentioned that it was “a great surprise and an unexpected outcome to start working in TV and soap opera-style [he has been doing mostly theatre roles] precisely in Macau.”

In the six days of recording, the team will be covering many locations in the territory, including many heritage sites and buildings. They said they have received the full support of the Cultural Affairs Bureau and private entities such as Hotel Lisboa and MGM Macau, where some parts of the shooting also took place.

De Sousa said he expects the scenes being recorded to be used for episodes 1 to 65, which will run during the first three months of the TV series’ airing. The show will be aired in Portugal first, but may also be broadcast in other Portuguese-speaking countries.

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