Thursday, May 28, 2015

Review - Love in the Buff

May 28, 2015

Love in the Buff – Hong Kong, 2012

There is a trap that always all sequels to romantic comedies inevitably fall into. Having ended the first film with two characters happily in love, the writers of the sequel often make the predictable decision to return its two central characters to the state of misery by manufacturing problems which had not existed previously. Therefore, in a sequel, Bridget Jones and her great love must inevitably break up, and Carrie and Big must have so many problems that they feel the need to spend time apart. However, rarely – if ever – are setbacks like these permanent, and one is often left with the impression that they occur not because it is natural that they would, but because it was the only device that anyone could think of to justify a second film.

Ho-Cheung Pang’s hit 2010 film Love in a Puff ended the way it should. Its two protagonists, Jimmy (Shawn Yue) and Cherie (Miriam ChinWah Yeung), had fought through adversity to be together in the end and were finally on their path to true bliss - and better health after both of them gave up smoking. It seems odd that a sequel would be necessary, yet 2012 saw the release of the oddly named Love in the Buff.

The film quickly dispenses with the pre-ordained separation. It seems that Jimmie refuses to grow up and that Cherie has gotten tired of his misplace priorities and unwillingness to sacrifice. We see that Jimmie puts his job first, and in one scene he even forgets that it is Cherie’s mother’s birthday. Oops. To make matters worse, he seems genuinely surprised that Cherie would have trouble understanding the situation. Nevertheless, she soon returns to her mother’s house, leaving Jimmie free to entertain a job offer in Beijing. Eventually, they both wind up there, where as fate would have it, they bump into each other and are taken aback by how strong their feelings still are.

As the film progressed, I got the impression that Jimmie and Cherie were better for other people as a result of their failed relationship. We see Jimmie happily doing things with his new girlfriend, You-you (Mi Yang), that he had not been able to stand before, and Cherie shows signs of possessing a creativity that she had hitherto not displayed. I rather liked these parts, for they gelled with what many people think of break ups, that while hurting a great deal, they have the potential to make people stronger and better in the end. The film also has a lot to say about old habits being hard to break and how former couples can sometimes find themselves repeating all of the same mistakes that they made the first time around. This part of the film is also to be commended. However, the execution of these themes is where the film makes what I consider to be a major blunder, for a film with such a premise often only seems truly genuine if its main characters ultimately remain apart despite their mutual adoration, and I could sense that the film had no intention of doing that. A more daring film would have.

It is perhaps for this reason that the film includes as its supporting characters two people who are just nice enough to sacrifice their happiness for someone else’s. Jimmie’s girlfriend is one of those loving cinematic characters that turn a blind eye to hints of problems and conflicted loyalty, hoping in vein that their love and stability are enough to keep their significant others from leaving. Similarly, Cherie’s boyfriend, Sam (Zheng Xu), has the look and manner of someone who would be more than willing to step aside in the interest of true love. In truth, I felt bad for these characters, and it was not easy to root for the people whose actions had the most potential to cause them pain. They deserved to be hurt and angry, yet instead the film denies them their just due, instead electing to show them passively accepting their fate. How convenient.

Also problematic is the film’s consistent use of cringe-worthy crude scenarios and suggestive language. In one particularly sigh-inducing scene, Cherie drops her cell phone in a toilet and then gets stuck in the bathroom stall. Her dilemma is this: She hasn’t gone to the bathroom yet. Laughing yet? The film also has enough characters with unrealistic personality quirks that you’d swear you were watching a Judd Apatow film. In a later scene, Cherie asks Sam, who chivalrously retrieved said cell phone from the toilet, what she can do to thank him. A friend’s answer: “Spread your legs.” There are far too many moments like this, and they unwisely distract from the film’s much more interesting storyline. Even worse, they make the film feel overly long and its running time of just under two hours somewhat unjustified.

Still, I did not entirely dislike the film. When it focuses on Jimmie and Cherie, the film is fun and light-hearted, and with a tighter focus it could easily have gotten the reputation as being Hong Kong’s Before Sunset. I can even see the potential for another movie with these characters in it. The problem is that having seen this one, I have no doubt that a third one would be more of the same, and that could pose a challenge. After all, look at how much less I liked it the second time around. (on DVD and Blu-ray)

3 stars

*Love in the Buff is in Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles.

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