Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Love in a Puff + Love in the Buff (2010, 2012)

Director: Pang Ho-cheung
Notable Cast: Shawn Yue, Miriam Yeung, Cheung Tat Ming, Sharon Luk, Charmaine Fong, Xu Zheng, Yang Mi, Vincent Kok, Ekin Cheng, Huang Xioaming
Original Cantonese title(s): 志明與春嬌 / 春嬌與志明

The Love in a Trilogy (that's not what it's officially called, but we'll go with it; the third has yet to start shooting) is one of my favorite series of films, not because of the ambition and scale (like a lot of Hollywood franchises thrive on), but because these are great hang out films. The lead characters of Jimmy and Cherie (played to perfection by Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung) are two of my favorite characters in all of cinema. Again, they aren't overly written or that unique, but they are very much real, so much so, that I often forget when watching them, that I am watching people act. They (aside from how nice they look visually) both [films] have this almost documentary quality to them, especially the 1st one. Love in a Puff has an interesting element of interviews with each of the characters for a documentary that is being made in the film. Fantastic!

Cherie and Jimmy

To keep things organized, and to not bounce back and forth between films constantly, I am going to primarily be reviewing Love in a Puff, with a little add-on paragraph below on Love in the Buff, which feels like more of an expansion to the film, rather than a sequel that takes us into a very, very different place, despite the actual setting be different (Beijing instead of Hong Kong). With that out of the way, let's get to it and talk about one of my favorite Hong Kong films of the decade, the quick-witted, always vulgar and yet charming, Love in a Puff.

2010 marked an awesome year for me. I discovered a new (to me) director working in my favorite area of cinematic gold (Hong Kong was my place at the time), Pang Ho-cheung. I saw two of his films that year, both very different films: Dream Home (維多利亞壹號), and the subject of this review. I was completely blown away by both films as they were both so different from each other (one a slasher film and the other a love story), and yet similar in how they handled real characters and very realistic dialogues. Now, I will say, I am no speaker nor even an understand-er (new word) of the Cantonese language, but what I will say is my ears can differentiate that over-the-top theatrical dialogue that films have (no matter the language spoken) versus a more naturalistic approach. This film has so much swearing in it, that it sort of reminded me of a Kevin Smith film, without going in to that so far-fetched that it feels fake territory that Smith films often do. Pang and his dialogue felt to me like the closest thing I'd get to hanging out with local Hong Kong people than actually being right there in the country. It was something fresh that I hadn't really gotten with other films from the area, and it excited me.

Love in a Puff, as said before, is quite the simple tale, in which two people meet up and begin to fall in love, with the backdrop to the romance being the smoking situation in Hong Kong that had began around that time (smoking at designated posts in public). The two lovebirds to be, Jimmy and Cherie, have some of the best chemistry as a couple of any romance film I've seen. They are completely real and believable. I think to this day, this is still the best character Shawn Yue has played. He's so loose and comfortable and never once does his star image ever seep through. He is Jimmy. The exact same praise goes for Miriam and her character.

Singing in the red room!

Some of the best scenes in the film are the interactions between their group of friends, whether it's just a more mundane story, or something more exotic like the pubic hair caught on the wristband of Jimmy's ex-girlfriend, whilst the gang was eating at a very fancy restaurant one night. It always kept me intrigued and constantly sporting a goofy grin on my face for most of the entirety of the film. To add to that, and to transition a little, the film also goes into more serious areas later on, nothing crazy or dark, but true to life nonetheless. The film greatly shows that human relationships are equal parts simple and complex. A 'romance', no matter which way you approach it, is a very layered thing to even attempt. Two humans having to put trust in to one another and try to slowly begin to understand, appreciate, and bond together, despite differences in personalities and viewpoints on life, is something that it is very difficult to convey realistically in cinema, and I think Pang has done an excellent job in doing so whilst also juggling that this movie has mainstream appeal. I'm not saying the film is much deeper than it leads us to believe, but I am saying it has a certain depth in its naturalism that it showcases within people's everyday lives, and I think that is a beautiful thing.

I won't blab on too long, for fear of a 50 paragraph review, but if I had to pick one romance film that could appeal to anybody, it'd be Love in a Puff. It's genius!

Love in the Buff, the 2012 sequel to one of my favorite films, now sees Jimmy in Beijing with his job, working mega hours and being stressed out. He has also developed a relationship (which we see unfolding throughout) with a local woman, Youyou Shang (Yang Mi), a person whom he seems to enjoy time with. By chance, and sort of the thing about the film that annoyed me [though I understand it needed to happen for the film's sake], Cherie magically shows up in Beijing due to her work as well. The two bump into each other and that old flame reignites. They can't seem to get out of each others' lives, both mentally, and now physically. Things seem to start picking up for the two, but Jimmy's current relationship with Youyou seems to make things complicated, and all the while Cherie seems to have something going with a man named Sam (Xu Zheng). Will the two lovebirds of yesteryear reunite and finally fall truly in love with one another? Have they been in love this entire time? Well, you'll have to see and find out.

Cherie and Jimmy: Strikes Back

I really don't want to go too much into the sequel, other than to sort of give a small two cents on it. I think the film is fine. I don't think it is a strong as the 1st, but a nice continuation it certainly is. Ekin Cheng (of, well... he's Ekin Cheng, fame) has a small, but awesome role as a crush of Cherie's, and he is fantastic in the film. I'm usually not a big fan of the guy, but he totally works here. Everyone's acting is fine, the cinematography is fantastic as usual in a Pang film. The writing is fresh, but sometimes feels too familiar. It's nice seeing familiar faces pop up, whilst also developing and having new characters to enjoy and get to know.

New Area, New Lover?

I have only seen Buff once, but it is an effective movie. The relationship and previous feelings between Cherie and Jimmy from the 1st film, is what keeps this film's momentum going. You just want the two to get together, but you know it is subtly more complicated than that. Knowing that there is a 3rd film now in the works, I really hope we get to see where their relationships will ultimately lead them. Love in the Buff is a fantastic follow-up, but not one I am sure if was absolutely necessary to come out when it did. I don't feel enough time had past for me to really, really invest back into what was going on between the two, but it still got me in the end, and it's a solid watch.

Written by Josh Parmer

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