15 May 2012 | moviexclusive
One of the very best rom-coms we have seen, witty, touching and insightful in its portrayal of love, relationships and every other complication in between
If 'Love in a Puff' was about the getting together, then its sequel 'Love in the Buff' is about the staying together. Indeed, almost anyone who's been in a relationship can tell you that you may love a person, but being together and staying together with that person is quite something altogether. What may have once seemed endearing suddenly becomes frustrating; and what should have seemed so simple suddenly becomes so complicated.
Wait a minute- is such heavy-handed matters the stuff of Pang Ho- Cheung's 'Love in the Buff'? After all, the original was a fluffy light- hearted romantic comedy built around the social phenomenon known as 'hot potting', or in other words, the regular congregation of office workers around dustbins in back alleys for a quick puff in the middle of their work routine. But unlikely as it may seem for fans of the original, this sequel ventures into much more mature territory, portraying with great detail and accuracy love, relationships and their attendant complications in today's modern dating scene.
So even as we are reunited with our favourite quirky couple Jimmy (Shawn Yue) and Cherie (Miriam Yeung), there is a sense that not all is well. As men are prone to do, Jimmy no longer makes an effort to remember his commitments to Cherie- even to the point of forgetting her mother's birthday celebration- and using work as an all-too convenient excuse instead. It's too easy for complacency to set into a relationship, and in the case of Jimmy, it just happens more quickly. Disappointed at Jimmy's nonchalance, Cherie moves out of Jimmy's apartment and quietly breaks up with him.
When a former boss (Jim Chim) makes him an offer to work in Beijing, Jimmy takes it up and meets on the flight there an attendant named You You (Mini Yang). How the two get acquainted is one of the many laugh- out-loud scenes in the movie, as Pang demonstrates once again why he is one of the most subversively entertaining filmmakers in the industry. Soon after, Jimmy and You You start going out with each other, and the easygoing chemistry they share soon leads them into a relationship- though You You's reaction to Jimmy's signature trick (which he had used with Cherie in the first movie) of pouring dry ice into the toilet bowl proves telling of the strength of their union.
Cherie makes an unexpected return into Jimmy's life when she is sent to the Chinese capital after her company decides to shut down some of its operations in Hong Kong. A chance meeting revives the spark of love within their hearts, even as Jimmy is now attached and Cherie's knowledge of that drives her to seek a new mate in the form of 40-plus year-old Sam (Xu Zheng). Still there's no denying their mutual attraction for each other, with their texting, late-night suppers, and hookups reminiscent of their whirlwind dating in the first movie.
Purists may decry the nature of their relationship with each other, and yes there's no doubt that much as we enjoy and root for the pair to get back together, it just isn't as straightforward as before- especially since both Jimmy and Cherie seem to be cheating on their respective partners. Therein however lies the dilemma that Pang addresses with delicate sensitivity- what exactly is the right thing to do if we are in a relationship with someone who loves us but find ourselves loving someone else instead?
The brilliance in Pang's filmmaking technique lies in how effectively he draws his audience into the seesawing emotions of both his lead characters Jimmy and Cherie, struggling with their responsibilities to their other halves even as they come face to face with the reality of their affections for each other. It's drawn-out no doubt, with Jimmy especially vacillating back and forth between Cherie and You You- but Pang finds such a bittersweet resolution to his characters' quandary that you'll instantly forgive the back-and-forth between the two characters.
The assuredness of Pang's direction is matched by the clarity of his and co-writer Luk Yee Sum's script, which through Jimmy and Cherie's text and voice messages to each other, convey acutely their mutual feelings. Not only is their writing spot-on in the depiction of the various relationships within the movie, it also retains completely the wit that made the original so endearing- both in terms of its use of allegories to portray its characters' circumstances as well as its side-splitting gags that include a guest appearance by Ekin Cheng and ex-Kevin Cheng flame Linda Wong. We dare to go as far to declare it as one of the very best rom-com screenplays from Hong Kong in recent years.
Besides sharp scripting, Pang's film is also a joy to watch for Shawn and Miriam's performances. Clearly relishing the opportunity to revisit the characters they played with aplomb the last time round, both actors are at their playful and tender best. In particular, Shawn once again demonstrates a hidden knack for comedy, a trait not often seen in his usual serious-type films. Miriam, on the other hand, wears her character's emotional vulnerabilities on her sleeve, and you'll be hard- pressed not to empathise with her through her tears and heartaches.
Rare is the rom-com that is as entertaining and as affecting as 'Love in the Buff', which through its characters and their relationships are bound to put anyone who's ever been in a relationship or for that matter fallen in love with someone in a ruminative mood. This review however would not be complete without a special mention to the film's soundtrack, which perfectly complements the tone of the scenes of the movie, and is worth keeping in itself. Once again, Pang proves why he is one of the best filmmakers in Hong Kong, and 'Love in a Buff' is that movie you want to visit every now and then just to bask in its emotions.