Romancing in Beijing
Two years ago, I was with a full house surprised by Edmond Pang Ho Cheung's Love in a Puff, a film that revolves around two smokers who became irrepressible lovers in the delightful romantic comedy, winning us over with their down to earth, identifiable qualities, undoubtedly thanks to Edmond Pang's solidly written story, and characterization. Today we sit in the exact same hall where Love in a Puff made its world premiere, and the air was thick with anticipation amongst all, where we would be revisiting two friends whom we had last left, in our minds, a firm couple finally after the trials in the first movie, only for the writer-director to surprise us once more with the premise of the sequel, that it's not all's well that end's well with them.
The film begins with a story about death, much like the earlier film, but this time round you're probably attuned to Edmond Pang's signature style, with snippets like these easily becoming short films in their own right. It blended absurd comedy with solid dialogue, which is to become the hallmark of Love in a Puff/Buff, and many of Edmond's films. We learn that both Jimmy (Shawn Yue) and Cherie (Miriam Yeung) have moved in together and cohabiting in an apartment, but not everything's fine and dandy in a relationship that calls for much compromises, maturity, little niggling white lies here and there, fused with the director's keen observation of modern day society where a focus on one's career may have a detrimental effect in sucking the romance out of a relationship bone dry. Reality has set in, and it's not looking too good.
It's about time and quality spent with the significant other, and it pains to see the both of them drift, and part over time, nary saying much to each other when they once had some of the best communications and dialogues any couple can have. Their break up isn't very clean to begin with, where Jimmy goes over to Beijing to further his career, given an appraisal of the bountiful opportunities in China, with Cherie staying behind in Hong Kong, only for her company to find itself shutting down its doors for the larger (and cheaper to operate in to boot) China market, but she too given a chance to remain with the organization since she's of low threat to her boss, spelling out a relocation to Beijing as well.
Sure enough, their paths do meet in the most serendipitous of instances in the large capital city of China, but by then Jimmy has already moved on and is in a relationship with You-you (Mini Yang), an air stewardess much closer to Jimmy's age (don't forget that Cherie is many years older), and with physical assets that gets compared to in one of the most hilarious scenes in the film. One notices that the comedy in this film, and in the Love in a Puff/Buff series, is never slapstick, but boiled down to very strong language delivering its razor sharp wit, and of course, coarseness as well that only serves to reinforce the point that dubbing will only make all these moments woefully lost in translation.
While Jimmy's story arc in his relationship with You-you is great eye candy, especially since the latter has this effervescence demeanour and their hookup also based on a joke on board a plane that served up another highlight, it's actually Cherie's story arc leading to a relationship of sorts with Sam (Xu Zheng) that proved to be more substantial and engaging instead, involving an observation about love in Beijing dealing with how singles get hooked up through family, who spend time scouring parks where parents of other singletons would advertise their own children's qualities, and appraisals done before the setting of blind dates. There's a point put across as well about the magnanimity of the Mainland Chinese in love and relationships, and how pragmatic their attitude can be as well, and this point will likely go down well with the Mainland audience, while doesn't come across as sucking it up because hey, we're all here to root for any sliver of possibility that our primary couple will break all deals and get together. After all, they still hold a candle for each other and constantly keep in touch through secret late night rendezvous or dirty weekend retreats behind their respective partner's back.
While it looks like a light hearted romp, it has plenty of heart put into the story, and those who have been through breakups will probably identify some takeaways that Love in the Buff points out well, with its exploration of themes like how one lover tends to exert an influence over the other whether subtly or otherwise, and how we deal with the implications of a messy and unclear breakup, where both Jimmy and Cherie obviously has pride, ego and longing in the way of calling it quits properly. And it's not all fun and laughter, since Pang Ho Cheung includes some heart-breaking moments but steering very clear of melodrama, which would have really ruined the treatment of the film.
A whole bevy of stars remain best to be unnamed to maintain the comical nature when they get introduced, from recognizable up and coming ones to those whom we have not seen for the longest time since bowing out of the limelight, bringing back plenty of memories especially for those amongst us who are of the couple's age and have grown up with the 80s and 90s pop culture. The end credits is wickedly hilarious, so don't leave the cinema just yet when the first credit starts to roll off, not only will you be treated to a short epilogue, but it continues to wryly poke fun at how we prefer our most embarrassing moments caught in digital records to be erased from the consciousness of all and sundry. Let's see how one of the actors wriggle out from this one indeed!
It's probably only the half way mark now, but Love in the Buff made this trip worthwhile already. Highly recommended and a definite must watch for fans of Pang Ho Cheung and Love in a Puff. This is a more than worthy sequel as it gets a little bit more intimate with our favourite characters, and it powers its way into my top films of the year to date!