Sunday, April 08, 2012

Love in the Buff

For all the talk of how it's hard for anything but gigantic blockbusters to get onto American screens these days, consider this: Love in a Puff came out in Hong Kong just about exactly two years ago, played a few film festivals, and has not, as of yet, officially reached the USA either theatrically or on legitimate home video. This sequel, on the other hand, arrives in North America just a day after its release in HK, making me wonder if someone will be on-the-ball enough to do a region 1/A release of the first alongside this one. It's hardly a trend, but it does indicate that there's some slow movement toward foreign films getting a little more traction in the US.

This one drew a pretty good crowd on Saturday at 7:20, though I've got no idea how many people had seen Love in a Puff beforehand, as there are only a couple of obvious callbacks to the first movie and they're not really jokes, where you can tell how many people got it by the amount of laughter. Ultimately, I suppose it doesn't matter, but I am curious, and I suppose that getting a good crowd for a movie that is a pretty direct sequel to something that most of America hasn't had a chance to see shows how much China Lion's target audience is expatriates rather than folks like me who don't mind reading subtitles.

(Although, speaking for us American guys without multi-region DVD/BD players, could someone get on releasing Pang's The Exodus here? I wanted to see it at NYAFF a few years ago and it hasn't shown up here since!)

I also found myself feeling strangely defensive about Hong Kong as the movie went on. The new, prosperous Beijing is a fixture in Mainland Chinese movies these days, and filters into Hong Kong films as they both try to make inroads into Chinese theaters and get Chinese co-production money. This was more than just "The People's Republic is Awesome!", though - there's a bunch of lines of dialogue implying that Hong Kong is yesterday's news, worth abandoning, etc. Weird, considering that this is technically a Hong Kong movie.

One final weird thing: China Lion's title card before the picture is on a white background, and I notice very few (if any) other companies do that. It really seems to scream "digital projection" compared to the companies that use a more muted background.

Chun giu yu chi ming (Love in the Buff)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 April 2012 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DLP)

The vagaries of North American release patterns of foreign films have resulted in Love in the Buff reaching theaters here before Love in a Puff, the movie to which it is a sequel, has been available on anything but import DVD and a few film festivals. It should play well enough as an audience's first encounter with the characters, although it's a lot easier to be invested if one has seen the original movie.

Cherie (Miriam Yeung Chin-wah) and Jimmy (Shawn Yue) have been dating for about five months, and it's starting to come apart. It's not so much the ten years Cherie has on her twenty-something boyfriend as the things that go with it - she's a bit jealous, he's prioritizing work and telling little lies, that sort of thing. When they break up, that makes Jimmy accepting a job in Beijing easier. As fate would have it, Cherie winds up transferred there a few months later, where she finds Jimmy has already started dating You-you (Mini Yang), the attendant on his flight from Hong Kong. It's not too long before she meets Sam (Zheng Xu), who is everything that Jimmy isn't. And as much as both seem better off with their new partners, it's almost inevitable that they will be drawn back toward each other.

Sequels to romantic comedies are tricky things; in most other genres, it's not hard to create a new challenge or raise the stakes, while the act of resetting to zero can sour the audience on the very notion of the couple reuniting. In some ways, Love in the Buff may actually work better in some ways for audiences who haven't seen the first; they're not burdened with any attachment to how the pair met during smoke breaks and quit nicotine but not each other and are more free to wonder whether Cherie's and Jimmy's relationship was the real thing or just a learning experience. Director Pang Ho-cheung and co-writer Luk Yee-sum do an impressive job of making the story something that could go either way even for returning audiences; it's well-enough built that the audience can't take things for granted.

Full review at EFC.

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