A still in "Love in the Buff".[Photo: film bussiness asia]
Contemporary romantic comedy
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 100 mins
Directed by Pang Ho-cheung
Fluffy rom-com following the pair from "Love in a Puff" is a big improvement. Asian events, plus festivals drawn by the director's name.
Hong Kong, 27 Jul 2009. It's Day 159 in the relationship of adman Cheung Chi-ming (Shawn Yue) and cosmetics salesgirl Yu Cheun-kiu (Miriam Yeung), but she is becoming increasingly unhappy by the lack of time he spends with her. One evening he forgets to attend a birthday dinner for her mother (Susan Shaw) while he's out drinking with work friends, one of whom, his former boss Paul (Jim Chim), invites him and his friend Eunuch Lee (Roy Szeto) to move to Beijing to help set up a new ad business together. Cheun-kiu finally moves out to live with her mother, and on 22 Oct (Day 246) Chi-ming flies off to Beijing, after calling Cheun-kiu on the way to the airport. Six months later, on 15 Apr 2010 (Day 421), Chi-ming by chance gets to know air hostess Shang Youyou on a flight to Beijing, and later they start a relationship. Meanwhile, Cheun-kiu's boss, Ngo (Kristal Tin), tells her the cosmetics company is shutting down its Hong Kong branch and she herself is being transferred to Shanghai; she asks Cheun-kiu to go to Beijing with her colleague Isabel (Isabel Chan) to train new staff there. Six months later, on 7 Oct (Day 596), Cheun-kiu and Chi-ming meet by chance outside a restaurant, and he introduces her to Youyou. Encouraged by her friends, Cheun-kiu starts going on blind dates and by chance gets to know the ultra-nice, divorced Shan (Xu Zheng). However, she and Chi-ming still find excuses to meet, even though they generally end up arguing.
With a change of locale from Hong Kong to Beijing, a wider spread of characters, and more subtlety in the relationships, director PANG Ho-cheung's follow-up to his "Love in a Puff"(2010) is a much less superficial showcase for stars Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue, though it never remotely stretches either actor and is never more than a fluffy rom-com. Pang's move to Beijing two years ago, and his change of female writing partner from Heiward Mak to Jody Luk (who also moved to Beijing), has benefited the script in a variety of ways as it follows the on-off relationship between the first film's two "smirters". The jokey sex talk that earned Puff some notoriety is here replaced by a much more mature, character-based humour and the whole setting — which the two Hong Kongers, always complaining about the food and lack of humidity, can adjust to but are never quite comfortable in — pushes them together in a way that Hong Kong would never have done.
Almost as a side benefit, Buff is a particularly acute, offhand look at Hong Kongers' relationship with the Mainland, a place that looks kind of familiar to them but still feels foreign. There's a tangible relief in the two lead characters' faces whenever they meet and can go back to speaking Cantonese — to a point that it almost becomes a stronger bond than their real feelings for each other. Thanks to their research, Pang and Luk have created a believable Beijing and its denizens, but both are still just exotic background to what is basically a rather over-long rapprochement between two Hong Kongers thrown together in a "foreign" environment. At least here, however, there's a temporary reason for them to be attracted to one another — something Cheung and Mak never came up with in their script for Puff.
As adman Chi-ming, Yue is again better here than Yeung, playing down the superficial side of his character to a point where her mercurial salesgirl Cheun-kiu becomes the less sympathetic one in the relationship. (A late scene of Cheun-kiu trying to stop Chi-ming from visiting his injured girlfriend is quite scary in its use of emotional blackmail.) Among the rest of the Hong Kong cast (several of whom, like Roy Szeto and Vincent Kok, return from Puff), Isabel Chan is memorable as a Plain Jane friend of Cheun-kiu who meets her dream-man, while among the Mainlanders bald comedian XU Zheng (the hapless victim in "Unfinished Girl" (2007)) makes a wry nice-guy to Yeung's half-hearted, hard-hearted singleton.
The biggest surprise, however, is the performance of China's Mini Yang, previously known more for the size of her breasts than the size of her talent, who's very touching as Yue's Beijing partner. It's the throaty-voiced actress' most serious role to date, and gives notice that she could develop into a younger version of Zhou Xun if she stays away from exploitation movies. Among a busy celebrity cast, Mainland heartthrob Huang Xiaoming pops up for some fun as "a guy who looks like Huang Xiaoming", while Hong Kong's Ekin Cheng and '90s singer Linda Wong (daughter of action star Jimmy Wang) sportingly play themselves in cameos.
In the end titles, Yue wittily spoofs a famous musicvideo by Wong, dressing in drag and miming to her 1993 signature song, known in Mandarin as "Don't Ask Who I Am" and in Cantonese as "Please Don't Wait Any More". It's the same song Yeung's character earlier sings in a karaoke bar, and both Chinese titles actually have some relevance to the plot at that point.
Structurally, the movie is very similar to Puff, kicking off with a comic-horror jape before settling into what is essentially a series of vignettes and light-comedy sketches, paragraphed by datelines. Thankfully, Pang has got rid of the vox-poppy interviews that plagued Puff, though in his use of jokey celebrity cameos, and things like cut-aways to phallic buildings to replace actual sex scenes, Pang's film-buffy playfulness still undermines his more serious aspirations, even with a new writing partner.
The mobile Red One camerawork by returning d.p. Jason Kwan ("Bruce Lee My Brother", "Dear Enemy") is more apposite here at portraying the characters' emotional restlessness, while the fretted score by Alan Wong and Janet Yung keeps the tone quite inconsequential. The film's English title is simply a pun on Puff, as there is no nudity from start to finish. The Chinese one is again just the two characters' names (Cheun-kiu and Chi-ming), here reversed from their order in Puff.