Love in the Buff
by Deborah Young
You don’t have to be an admirer of Pang Ho-cheung’s 2010 surprise hit, the romantic comedy Love in a Puff, to be amused by its equally hip and sassy sequel Love in the Buff. Reprising the two original lover-protags as they break up and make up between Hong Kong and Beijing, Pang offers another painfully on-target analysis of modern love in all its truth and lies, with only a wee bit of wheel-spinning towards the end. Opening the Hong Kong International Film Festival, the Hong Kong-Chinese coprod has a waiting audience and can be expected to gain ground on its predecessor in Asian markets. Though the raucous, off-color jokes in Cantonese and Mandarinare mostly untranslatable, their flavor at least comes across in subtitles, while Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue’s down-to-earth, laid-back acting makes their beleaguered characters as familiar as New Yorkers.
At the end of the first film, junior ad exec Jimmy (Yue) and slightly older cosmetics salesgirl Cherie (Yeung) gave up smoking, the bad habit that brought them together during work breaks. Now they’ve been living together for half a year and he’s already forgetting birthdays and putting work commitments ahead of their relationship (a running theme.) The sarcastic Cherie, always comparing and complaining, isn’t that easy to live with, either. She decides to move back to her mother’s.
When first he and then she get transferred to Beijing for work, both find new love interests. But they can’t stay away from each other long, and they start texting and cheating on their new companions while they feel their way through a painful off-and-on relationship. The highly convincing dialogue is spiced with very funny toilet jokes (toilets literally figure in two important scenes) and buoyed up by a series of well-timed gags, beginning with the opening horror film send-upthat manages to be funny and scary at the same time.
Later, on the plane to Beijing, Jimmy’s pal Eunuch announces it’s legal to feel up flight attendants two times before they arrest you. The guy behind them tries it and finds out once is enough. The offended hostess (doll-like beauty Mimi Yang) asks for Jimmy’s number as a “witness” and they quickly get together. Attentive, fun and much younger than Cherie, she wants a serious relationship that the immature Jimmy has no intention of providing.
Cherie also has someone new in her life, Sam (Xu Zheng): serious, considerate, divorced. He would make a great long-term partner, if the crazy Jimmy didn’t haunt her thoughts and cell phone. Pang and Luk Yee Sum’s screenplay hits home in its attempt to crack the universal conundrum: why do people fall for each other, despite their obvious imperfections? Why do they ditch better partners to be together? Clearly Jimmy and Cherie are made for each other and, like the salty 7/11 noodles he loves with not enough meat, each is “perfect” for the other.
Not only Hong Kong, but mainland China is made to look like a very modern, happening place with its disco, bar and club scene for upwardly mobile 30-somethings. Lok-Lam Ho’s very spare scenery in sophisticated tones of white and gray underlines the anti-traditional feeling of the whole, echoed in close shots, apparently casual framing and nervous editing that well capture the intimacy of a moment.
A number of local guest stars appear in well-planted cameos that always got a laugh from Hong Kong audiences. Similarly, the absurd end credits sequence in which one of the characters appears in drag lip-synching an MTV song will fly by Western viewers, though the gist is clear.
Venue: Hong Kong Filmart, Mar. 19, 2012
Production companies: Making Film Productions
Cast: Miriam Yeung, Shawn Yu, Mimi Yang, Xu Zheng
Director: Pang Ho-cheung
Screenwriter: Pang Ho-cheung, Luk Yee Sum
Producers: Pang Ho-cheung, Shi Dongming
Director of photography: Jason Kwan
Production designer: Lok-Lam Ho
Editor: Wenders Li
Music: Alan Wong, Janet Yung
Sales Agent: Media Asia Distribution
No rating, 106 minutes