Love in the Buff
Hong Kong/China, 2012, colour, 2.35:1, 100 mins.
Director: Peng Haoxiang 彭浩翔 [Pang Ho-cheung].
Fluffy rom-com following the pair from Love in a Puff to Beijing is a big improvement.
Hong Kong, 27 Jul 2009. It’s Day 159 in the relationship of adman Zhang Zhiming (Yu Wenle) and cosmetics salesgirl Yu Chunjiao (Yang Qianhua), 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 (Shao Yinyin) while he’s out drinking with work friends, one of whom, his former boss Paul (Zhan Ruiwen), invites him and his friend Eunuch Li (Situ Huizhuo) to move to Beijing to help set up a new ad business together. Yu Chunjiao finally moves out to live with her mother, and on 22 Oct (Day 246) Zhang Zhiming flies off to Beijing, after calling Yu Chunjiao on the way to the aiport. Six months later, on 15 Apr 2010 (Day 421), Zhang Zhiming by chance gets to know air hostess Shang Youyou (Yang Mi) on a flight to Beijing, and later they start a relationship. Meanwhile, Yu Chunjiao’s boss, E (Tian Ruini), tells her the cosmetics company is shutting down its Hong Kong branch and she herself is being transferred to Shanghai; she asks Yu Chunjiao to go to Beijing with her colleague Isabel (Chen Yining) to train new staff there. Six months later, on 7 Oct (Day 596), Yu Chunjiao and Zhang Zhiming meet by chance outside a restaurant, and he introduces her to Shang Youyou. Encouraged by her friends, Yu Chunjiao starts going on blind dates and by chance gets to know the ultra-nice, divorced Shan (Xu Zheng). However, she and Zhang Zhiming 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, the follow-up by director Peng Haoxiang 彭浩翔 [Pang Ho-cheung] to his Love in a Puff 志明与春娇 (2010) is a much less superficial showcase for stars Yang Qianhua 杨千嬅 [Miriam Yeung] and Yu Wenle 余文乐 [Shawn Yue], though it never remotely stretches either actor and is never more than a fluffy rom-com. Peng’s move to Beijing two years ago, and his change of female writing partner from Mai Xiyin 麦曦茵 [Heiward Mak] to Lu Yixin 陆以心 (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, Love in the Buff 春娇与志明 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, Peng and Lu 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 Peng and Mai never came up with in their script for Puff.
As adman Zhang Zhiming, Yu is again better here than Yang, playing down the superficial side of his character to a point where Yang’s mercurial salesgirl Yu Chunjiao becomes the less sympathetic one in the relationship. (A late scene of Yu Chunjiao trying to stop Zhang Zhiming from visiting his injured girlfriend is quite scary in its use of emotional blackmail.) Among the rest of the Hong Kong cast – quite a few of whom, like Situ Huizhuo 司徒慧焯 [Roy Szeto] and Gu Dezhao 谷德昭 [Vincent Kok], return from Puff – Chen Yining 陈逸宁 is memorable as a Plain Jane friend of Yu Chunjiao who meets her dream-man, while among the Mainlanders bald comedian Xu Zheng 徐峥 (Unfinished Girl 第三个人, 2007; One Night in Supermarket 夜•店, 2009; Lost on Journey 人在囧途, 2010) makes a wry nice-guy to Yang’s half-hearted, hard-hearted singleton.
The biggest surprise, however, is the performance of China’s Yang Mi 杨幂, previously known more for the size of her breasts than the size of her talent, who’s very touching as Yu’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 周迅 if she stays away from exploitation movies. Among a busy celebrity cast, Mainland heartthrob Huang Xiaoming 黄晓明 pops up for some fun as “a guy who looks like Huang Xiaoming”, while Hong Kong’s Zheng Yijian 郑伊健 [Ekin Cheng] and 1990s singer Wang Xinping 王馨平 (daughter of action star Wang Yu 王羽 [Jimmy Wang]) sportingly play themselves in cameos.
In the end titles, Yu wittily spoofs a famous musicvideo by Wang, dressing in drag and miming to her 1993 signature song, known in Mandarin as Don’t Ask Who I Am 别问我是谁 and in Cantonese as Please Don’t Wait Again 请不必再等. It’s the same song Yang’s character earlier sings in a karaoke bar, and both Chinese titles actually have some relevance to the plot at that point.
Structurally, Buff 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, Peng 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. Guan Zhiyao 关智耀 [Jason Kwan] (Bruce Lee My Brother 李小龙, 2010; Dear Enemy 亲密敌人, 2011) is more apposite here at portraying the characters’ emotional restlessness, while the fretted score by Huang Ailun 黄艾伦 [Alan Wong] and Weng Weiying 翁玮盈 [Janet Yung] keeps the tone very light. The film’s English title is simply a pun on Puff, as there is no nudity from start to finish. The Chinese title is again just the two characters’ given names but reversed from their order in Puff.
Presented by China Film Media Asia Audio Video Distribution (CN), Media Asia Films (HK). Produced by Media Asia Films (HK), China Film Media Asia Audio Video Distribution (CN).
Script: Peng Haoxiang [Pang Ho-cheung], Lu Yixin. Photography: Guan Zhiyao [Jason Kwan]. Editing: Li Dongquan [Wenders Li]. Music: Huang Ailun [Alan Wong], Weng Weiying [Janet Yung]. Art direction: He Lelin. Costume design: Huang Jiayi. Costume advice: Wen Nianzhong. Sound: Du Duzhi. Visual effects: Wang Yinghao, Ye Peicai.
Cast: Yang Qianhua [Miriam Yeung] (Yu Chunjiao/Cherie), Yu Wenle [Shawn Yue] (Zhang Zhiming/Jimmy), Xu Zheng (Shan/Sam), Yang Mi (Shang Youyou), Gu Dezhao [Vincent Kok] (Da), Situ Huizhuo [Roy Szeto] (Eunuch Li), Chen Yining (Isabel), Huang Xiaoming (Ben Zheng), Zheng Yijian [Ekin Cheng] (himself), Zhan Ruiwen [Jim Chim] (Paul, Zhang Zhiming’s ex-boss), Tian Ruini (E/Olivia, Yu Chunjiao’s boss), Yan Qing (Mandy Feng), Hao Lei (teacher), Wang Xinping (herself), Lin Zhaoxia (Brenda), Zhou Ziyang (Jiang Haolong/Horace, Mandy Feng’s first boyfriend), Liu Haolong [Wilfred Lau] (Chen Qiang/Ken, Mandy Feng’s second boyfriend), Yin Zhiwen [Jimmy Wan] (Jimmy, Mandy Feng’s third boyfriend), Huang Suhuan (masseuse), Zeng Guoxiang [Derek Tsang] (Yu Chunjiao’s younger brother), Shao Yinyin [Susan Shaw] (Yu Chunjiao’s mother), Gu Zulin [Jo Kuk] (KK), An Lan (passenger in plane), Zheng Shaoran (airport security guard), Fang Haowen (Patty), Lv Shiyu (nightclub dancer), Wei Yuqi (Korean girl in nightclub), Sunny Lau (Peter), Lu Jiyu (Hehe), Melissa (Sisi), Yuan Tingting (JoJo), Xiu Rui (Zhang Lang), Ding Hao, Zhu Mingkang, Zhou Yang, Wang Ke (band members), Tao Siyuan (Chen Jun), Feng Jingsi (Xiaojuan), He Lelin (Shang Youyou’s friend), Liu Liandi (Brenda’s aunt), Liu Ruixue (Tony’s mother), Wang Taili (Tony), Alex (teacher’s boyfriend), Lil’ Mac (Ekin Cheng’s assistant), Peng Haoxiang [Pang Ho-cheung] (Michael), Stanley Liu (Mandy’s husband).
Premiere: Hong Kong Film Festival (Opening Film), 21 Mar 2012.
Release: Hong Kong, 29 Mar 2012; China, 30 Mar 2012.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 8 Apr 2012.)