Love in a Puff
Hong Kong, 2010, colour, 2.35:1, 101 mins.
Director: Peng Haoxiang 彭浩翔 [Pang Ho-cheung].
The cute idea of a “smirting” rom-com is let down by shallow characters and weak development.
Hong Kong, Feb 2009. Cosmetics salesgirl Yu Chunjiao (Yang Qianhua) and advertising executive Zhang Zhiming (Yu Wenle) meet in a group that regularly assembles in a back alley for a smoking break. She is in a dead-end relationship with her live-in partner Jiahao (Huang Debin) and is curious about Zhang Zhiming’s interest in her; he is attracted by her apparent insouciance and reluctance to get involved. Over the course of a few days, they continue to casually meet.
In its first 20 minutes, Love in a Puff 志明与春娇 shows all the signs of a return to form by maverick Hong Kong director Peng Haoxiang 彭浩翔 [Pang Ho-cheung]: an early trick played on the audience, a group of smokers chatting outside a building with two of them “smirting” (smoking-flirting), and the visual style swinging every which way (handheld, nervily edited shooting of the group, and 16mm talking-head interviews with the characters). As the brittle salesgirl of Yang Qianhua 杨千嬅 [Miriam Yeung] and unflappable ad executive of Yu Wenle 余文乐 [Shawn Yue] start impromptu meetings outside the group, a nice chemistry builds between the actors, with the younger Yu quietly down-playing his usual image. A night sequence in a park mines considerable comedy out of Hong Kong’s draconian smoking laws (introduced in Jan 2007) as well as building the basis of a interesting rom-com. (The Chinese title is simply the leads’ two names, “Zhiming and Chunjiao”.) In short, the movie looks set to have a consistency that’s escaped Peng since his early films.
But then it goes nowhere. Yang’s snippy character becomes progressively more annoying, Yu’s suffers from a total lack of backgound, and the dialogue – well, for anyone who thinks the younger generation of Hong Kongers is basically very shallow, this film will prove their point. More importantly, Peng and co-writer du jour Mai Xiyin 麦曦茵 [Heiward Mak] (High Noon 烈日当空, 2008; Ex 前度, 2010) come up with no convincing reason – other than sharing a smoke together – for the two to show a continuing interest in each other, especially Yu’s well-adjusted character in Yang’s mercurial one. Instead, the script is padded out with jokey sex talk (which got it a Category III rating locally), some knockabout comedy (notably, involving a toilet) and side stories about other characters (one of which is cruel in an unfunny way). Among the cameo-strewn cast, TVB actress Lu Shiyun 陆诗韵 stands out as the main guy’s ex. But at the end of the day, Puff is peculiarly pointless and, worst of all, progressively boring.
Presented by Media Asia Films (HK). Produced by Making Film Productions (HK).
Script: Peng Haoxiang [Pang Ho-cheung], Mai Xiyin [Heiward Mak]. Original story: Peng Haoxiang [Pang Ho-cheung]. Photography: Guan Zhiyao [Jason Kwan]. Editing: Li Dongquan [Wenders Li]. Music: Huang Ailun [Alan Wong], Weng Weiying [Janet Yung]. Production design: Wen Nianzhong [Man Lim-chung]. Art direction: Liang Siyun. Costume design: Zhong Chuting. Sound: Du Duzhi. Visual effects: Wang Yinghao. Titles: Wang Yinghao.
Cast: Yang Qianhua [Miriam Yeung] (Yu Chunjiao/Cherie), Yu Wenle [Shawn Yue] (Zhang Zhiming/Jimmy), Zhang Daming (Joseph, hotel porter), Miao Feilin (Xiaohong, waitress), Xu Tianyou (corner-shop cashier), Situ Huizhuo [Roy Szeto] (Eunuch Li, Zhang Zhiming’s colleague), Gu Zulin [Jo Kuk] (Double K, Yu Chunjiao’s friend), Lu Shiyun (Huiying/Vivian, Zhang Zhiming’s ex-girlfriend), Fang Haowen (Patty), Gu Dezhao [Vincent Kok] (Da), Huang Debin (Jiahao/Carl), Zou Kaiguang [Matt Chow] (government employee), Lin Zhaoxia (Brenda), Guan Yiyang (Michael), Lin Yaosheng (Hei).
Release: Hong Kong, 25 Mar 2010.
(Originally published on Film Business Asia, 3 Jul 2010.)