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Review: Love off the Cuff (2017)

Love off the Cuff

春娇救志明

Hong Kong/China, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 120 mins.

Director: Peng Haoxiang 彭浩翔 [Pang Ho-cheung].

Rating: 5/10.

Third instalment in the singletons’ laissez-faire relationship runs on empty most of the time.

STORY

Hong Kong, the present day. Zhang Zhiming (Yu Wenle) and Yu Chunjiao (Yang Qianhua) are both back from Beijing and have been living together for some time. While visiting a dam at night to spot UFOs, they’re both caught in a compromising position by police and the news makes the press. However, neither’s job is affected, and adman Zhang Zhiming is actually moved over from accounting to the creative department by his boss YT (Lin Haifeng). Both are saving up to buy a flat but Yu Chunjiao still won’t be drawn by her girlfriends on the exact nature of her relationship with Zhang Zhiming. While walking her dog one night, Zhang Zhiming gives some impromptu skateboard coaching to a young woman he meets (Ou Kaichun) and his colleague Eunuch Li (Gu Dezhao) posts a picture on social media. Yu Chunjiao is irritated and wonders if Zhang Zhiming had a one-night stand with the young woman. She also has to deal with a visit from Malaysia by her philandering father Philip (Qin Pei), who wants her and her younger brother Derek (Zeng Guoxiang) to meet his perky young fiancee, Apple (Wang Xiaochen), from China. Philip keeps trying to enveigle Zhang Zhiming into boys’ nights out. Yu Chunjiao is even more put out when Zhang Zhiming’s godmother from Toronto – whom she agreed to let stay with them for a few days – turns out to be young and pretty: she immediately becomes suspicious of the forthright Flora (Jiang Mengjie), even though Zhang Zhiming insists Flora was only 13 when he left Canada for Hong Kong, and the title of “godmother” was a private joke. However, when Flora tells them she has endometriosis, and asks if she can be artificially inseminated by Zhang Zhiming so she can have a child before it’s too late, Zhang Zhiming draws a line. His decision brings him and Yu Chunjiao closer together and he accompanies her on a short business trip to Taibei to romantically celebrate the fact.

REVIEW

The third – and hopefully last – instalment in the on-off relationship between two laissez-faire Hong Kong singletons, Love off the Cuff 春娇救志明 spends most of the time running on empty. It’s been five years since writer-director Peng Haoxiang [Pang Ho-cheung] last visited the couple’s saga, which began with Love in a Puff 志明与春娇 (2010) and continued with Love in the Buff 春娇与志明 (2012). In the meantime, Peng has made the enjoyably trashy Vulgaria 低俗喜剧 (2012), the much more trenchant Aberdeen 香港仔 (2014), and the undemanding rom-com Women Who Flirt 撒娇女人最好命 (2014). But for what appears to be the final film in a trilogy – judging by the dates “2009” and “2017” that frame the title – Peng doesn’t produce any special insights or moments of revelation to close his characters’ story. Maybe that’s deliberate, mirroring their casual approach to each other (at least on the surface), or maybe Peng and his co-writers have nothing fresh to say. But after the insightful and mature Aberdeen, which proved Peng can be more than just an overgrown film geek, Cuff is a disappointment – as well as being a good 20 minutes too long.

It’s a double disappointment coming after Buff, which took the pair’s story to a more adult level after the vacuous Puff, and benefited by being set in Beijing, where the two Hong Kongers had a reason to cling to each other for emotional/cultural support in a “foreign” city. Now both back in Hong Kong, and living together in a cramped flat, they’re back to their offhand ways of Puff – a pragmatic relationship between two people whose lives don’t really intersect and who each have their own Greek Chorus. Zhang Zhiming lets off steam with his male work pals, while Yu Chunjiao pours out (most of) her feelings to her cynical girlfriends. And that’s how the film jogs along for most of the time, with lightly comical events and misunderstandings, decorated with small grace-notes of Hong Kong life. As in the previous two films, there’s even a joke horror film at the start. So far, so familiar.

The only things giving the movie some narrative spine are two longer sub-plots: a visit from Malaysia by Yu Chunjiao’s philandering father (with his pretty young fiancee) and a visit from Canada by Zhang Zhiming’s (now very grown-up) family friend. Both impact slightly on the central couple’s relationship – Yu Chunjiao finally comes to a kind of understanding with her roguish father, and Zhang Zhiming finally has to rein in his nubile friend – but only on a superficial level. As in Puff, but not in Buff, Peng always seems happiest when he can resort to a flip solution to a conflict; as a result, the movie just bounces around, with no sense of direction, and, after a short trip to Taibei, goes seriously off the boil in the final half-hour.

Part of the problem is that there’s no true chemistry between the two characters we’re asked to be interested in. More than ever, Yu Chunjiao comes across as a perpetual grouch, endlessly finding fault with the easygoing Zhang Zhiming to the point where his patience seems unrealistic. Compounding this error, the script by Peng, Yin Zhiwen 尹志文 [Jimmy Wan] (who co-wrote some of Peng’s earlier films) and Lu Yixin 陆以心 (Buff) builds the finale round Yu Chunjiao’s personal crisis, at a point where many viewers will simply have lost patience with her carping. It’s only thanks to the comic timing of Yang Qianhua 杨千嬅 [Miriam Yeung] that Yu Chunjiao is as bearable as she is; but as in Buff, the film really belongs to Yang’s co-star Yu Wenle 余文乐 [Shawn Yue] in his clever underplaying of the laid-back Zhang Zhiming.

Many of the regular supporting ensemble – played by Peng’s industry pals – are back again for this one, largely in cameo roles. Among the newcomers, Qin Pei 秦沛 [Paul Chun] brings some veteran heft to the film with his roguish father figure; as the forthright flat-guest from Toronto, China’s Jiang Mengjie 蒋梦婕, 27, carves as physical a figure as in the online-drama version of Suddenly Seventeen 28岁未成年 (2016); and Mainland TV’s Wang Xiaochen 王晓晨, 28, is suitably bright and direct as the father’s young fiancee. By speaking Mandarin, both Jiang and Wang are cast in “outsider” roles in what is a very Hong Kong-centric movie. (Mainland box-office has been the highest in the trilogy, more than twice that of Buff‘s, but still only a so-so RMB170 million.)

Replacing series regular Guan Zhiyao 关智耀 [Jason Kwan], Taiwan d.p. Zhou Yixian 周宜贤 (You Are the Apple of My Eye 那些年,我们一起追的女孩。, 2011; When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep 南方小羊牧场, 2012) goes for a less edgy, less mobile look without becoming too glossy. The film’s Chinese title means “Chunjiao Saves Zhiming”, following on from the previous two films’ Chinese titles (“Zhiming and Chunjiao”, “Chunjiao and Zhiming”). The English titles are simply clever rhyming puns and, apart from Love in a Puff, have nothing to do with the plots.

CREDITS

Presented by Media Asia Film Production (HK), Huoerguosi Youth Enlight Pictures (CN), Sun Entertainment Culture (HK), China Film Media Asia Audio Video Distribution (CN). Produced by Making Film (HK).

Script: Peng Haoxiang [Pang Ho-cheung], Yin Zhiwen [Jimmy Wan], Lu Yixin. Original story: Peng Haoxiang [Pang Ho-cheung]. Photography: Zhou Yixian. Editing: Li Dongquan [Wenders Li]. Music: Huang Ailun [Alan Wong], Weng Weiying [Janet Yung], Jin Peida [Peter Kam]. Production design: Wen Nianzhong [Man Lim-chung]. Art direction: Li Guolin. Costume design: Chen Baoyan. Sound: Du Duzhi, Jiang Lianzhen. Action: Huang Weiliang [Jack Wong]. Visual effects: Wang Yinghao (Herbgarden, Oh Yes Productions).

Cast: Yu Wenle [Shawn Yue] (Zhang Zhiming/Jimmy), Yang Qianhua [Miriam Yeung] (Yu Chunjiao/Cherie), Jiang Mengjie (Flora), Wang Xiaochen (Apple, Philip’s girlfriend), Qin Pei [Paul Chun] (Philip/Joseph, Yu Chunjiao’s father), Shao Yinyin [Susan Shaw] (Chen Fengdi, Yu Chunjiao’s mother), Zeng Guoxiang [Derek Tsang] (Derek, Yu Chunjiao’s younger brother), Situ Huizhuo [Roy Szeto] (Eunuch Li), Gu Dezhao [Vincent Kok] (Da), Gu Zulin [Jo Kuk] (KK), Chen Yining (Isabel), Yan Wenxuan (Mandy Feng), Lin Zhaoxia (Brenda), Li Chengbin (Dan, photographer), Ou Kaichun (young woman skateboarder), Lin Haifeng [Jan Lamb] (YT, Zhang Zhiming’s boss), Sen Mei (hairdresser), Wu Dairong (Fei Ying, triad), Guo Yiling (Taiwan hotel receptionist), Chen Jing (Ke’er, dog owner), Chen Yilan (Fei Ying’s woman), Zou Kaiguang [Matt Chow], Zhou Junwei (policemen), Mai Zhiyi (Ke’er’s friend), Li Shiyi (Qishiyi Lang), Liao Ziyu, Yuan Lilin (nightclub women), Tian Qiwen (social-services officer), Lian Shiya (Veronica, skateboard woman at end), Peng Haoxiang [Pang Ho-cheung] (placard man), Huang Wenhui (blind woman).

Premiere: Hong Kong Film Festival (Opening Film), 11 Apr 2017.

Release: Hong Kong, 27 Apr 2017; China, 28 Apr 2017.