Wednesday, March 24, 2010

[HKIFF 2010 Review] Love in a Puff (志明與春嬌 / Chi Ming Yu Chun Giu) (World Premiere)


I don't smoke, but I will tell you that from time to time my admiration of the smokers is that camaraderie formed given the gathering of like-minded (erm, addicted?) folks within Singapore's context of the yellow box, where they are permitted to light up and puff to their hearts' content in public (now with even stricter regulations it must be 5m away from an building entrance). It's an "us against the world", but that doesn't faze them at all. In need of a light? Well, someone at the box will gladly assist you. Need another stick but have smoked your last? Somebody else can offer you one. For free. And not to mention the many talk-cock-sing-song sessions that occur, where the yellow box has evolved into a bona fide grapevine for news, jokes and gossips to be traded. This yellow box bonding is much envied.

But of course that isn't reason enough to convert me, but it sure is reason enough for Hong Kong director Pang Ho-cheung to weave a romantic comedy based on this premise, and he does so with much aplomb in the opening scene being a direct result, that it just grabs you and holds your attention all the way until the end, with an astute sense and insightful capture of the essence and psyche of the modern day dating game. Being a young (though established) director, he combines the in-thing of today's technology, with SMS and doctored Facebook profile pictures into a commentary of sorts about the games people play when looking for love.

Hong Kong too has similar strict regulations in the areas where one can smoke, and these are all explained in the film. Ho uses them as a social background to weave the story of two characters - the English title is nowhere remotely close to the Chinese one, which is "Jimmy and Cherie", named after the two characters played by Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung, in a sort of Romeo and Juliet fashion and the likes. They meet at one of the smoking areas where they trade stories with folks from other parts of the neighbourhood, and soon become fast friends, hitting it off almost instantaneously after cosmetics salesgirl Cherie learns of the unfortunate infidelity of ad executive Jimmy's (soon to be ex) girlfriend, which provides enormous punctuations of laughter since she (and others not supposed to be in the loop) are sworn to secrecy.

Despite their age gap (in real life as well) which is made explicitly known in the narrative, both Shawn and Miriam (last seen on screen some 3 years ago with Hooked on You, another Hong Kong romantic comedy I dig) share a lovable, natural chemistry which is hallmark of any great romance, despite roadblocks placed in their way like current relationships gone sour, and the questioning of the What If when someone else who does seem more like one's soulmate comes along. Unravelling itself over seven consecutive days, we follow these two wonderfully crafted characters as they hit it off, and quietly root for them to come together, though it's no mean feat, almost reminiscent of anyone's experience in a relationship when the beginning phase seems pretty awesome, until expectations start settling in and the mind games start to creep in.

The jokes here are laugh a minute when the director gets his story to deliver punchline after punchline which worked almost all the time, and shows his unique knack at pace and knowing what works. Included are some documentary-reel like clips containing faux pas interviews with the characters which while a tangent from the main narrative, contains plenty of rip-roaring revelations that continue all the way until during the end credits (which contains those which don't exactly fit into the main narrative proper). The main theme from the soundtrack is also beautiful to listen to, and becomes instant earworm.

This is another winner from Pang Ho-cheung, and is definitely highly recommended. I think it'll make its way to Singapore despite the focus on the smokes (with some redeeming factors), but surely, this is one film that will lose out tremendously if dubbed in Mandarin, since the colourful, fast-and-furiously delivered-only-in-Cantonese swear phrases will lose their shine (the audience was just going nuts!). Oh and thanks to this film, I will also want to try out the dry-ice toilet bowl effect, nothing like taking a heavenly dump!

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