One of my favourite films of the last few years was “Love in a Puff”, Edmond Pangs’ low budget but smart comedy about two people who meet during enforced outside smoking breaks. Funny and crude, it struck a real chord with me, and the idea of a sequel excited me, not just to be reunited with the characters, but frankly I am a huge fan of the Director. Could this one live up to my expectations?
In “Love in the Buff” A few months have passed since the events of the previous film, and Cherie (Miriam Yeung) and Jimmy (Shaun Yue) are now living together, although things are not quite as idyllic as we might have hoped. Jimmy is still rather childish, and having a hard time balancing the needs of his relationship with the demands of his work. An offer to go work on the mainland coincides with yet another argument, and the couple split up. Jimmy moves to Beijing, and whilst there starts a relationship with a very pretty local Air Hostess, You-you (Mini Yang). A little time later, and Cherie’s company decide to up sticks from Hong Kong, relocating her also to the Chinese Capital. They are still not over each other, and a chance meeting means that they rekindle their affair, although Cherie also meets a more mature Businessman called Sam (Zheng Xu). Although both are potentially with more obviously compatible partners, they both realise that neither can really let go of the love they had. Can they overcome their differences and become a couple again? Or do these new relationships actually provide the chance of fulfilling lives without each other?
I was a little disappointed with the film to be honest. The opening 20 minutes are a lot of fun, especially the opening sequence, which has enough in it to be a film of its own. The breakup is realistic, and in some sense I wanted them to go off and find new lives. It is still a total riot at times, even if the raunchy language does not translate, and probably a fair bit of Hong Kong/Mainland satire whooshes over my head. There are a couple of fun real life cameos too which made this Asian film fan smile broadly – sometimes these kind of convergences of the real and cinema are awkward, but in this case they were pulled off with charm.
The problem I had was the opposite of my feelings in the first film. A common complaint of the original is that many could just not buy into the romance between our leads. I was of a differing opinion then, but in this film I struggled to actually want them to get together. Cherie makes the point that they have just slipped into the same old habits – SMS, illicit sex, sneaking around – and to see them mostly do this, I never once got the feeling that there was something deeper holding them together. And when both of them are also being romanced by characters that are much more suitable to them, I never once felt that here was a couple that were destined to be together. I hear them telling each other how good they are together, but never once saw something outside of the opening and closing scenes that really showed me this was the case.
On the whole, the supporting cast are fine, if maybe a little drawn too comically. Mini Yang is excellent, managing to be pretty, funny, smart, charming, and in the end someone you really feel sorry for. Sadly in this world, perfection does not necessarily bring happiness, even if her only fault is maybe being too keen, and not seeing the hilarity of seeing dry ice in the toilet bowel. Zheng Xu does what he can with his role, but its a somewhat bland character, that probably is meant to be too good to be true.
Despite my disappointment, it has to be said, this IS a Pang film, and therefore it is well directed, with a smart script and more amusing sequences than most other Directors can manage in 5 films. Even if I wasn’t fully aware of the Linda Wong-inspired Karaoke classic video that Jimmy rather disturbingly remakes to win Cherrie back – I was equally amused and disturbed by it – I bet it went down a storm with the local audiences. It also is a film which maybe tells a few hard truths, but it is not cruel with its cynicism, just has that classic Pang reality about it.
So even though I finished the film disappointed with the central story, I actually still want to call this Highly Recommended. There is enough craft and humour here to make even the most heartless viewer find something to enjoy. It is just that maybe, sometimes, you shouldn’t go back again. I can’t help but feel this one was made for the money (hence the Mainland location), but if it helps continue raise Pang’s star in the Asian film world, then this viewer is eagerly awaiting his next works.