Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung star in another fantastic film directed by Pang Ho-cheung.
“n 55!w !” this string of characters is the first thing that fills the cinema screen. It is an especially important moment, as only fans of this rom-com trilogy will feel a knowing nostalgic flutter stemming from those random letters, the seemingly unrelated horror story preceding the credits, and the in-depth intricacies and fleeting yet entirely memorable moments two fated lovers share, but, for the uninitiated, let’s go back.
In 2009, Hong Kong auteur Pang Ho-Cheung introduced audiences to a quintessential Hong Kong couple Jimmy (Shawn Yue) and Cherie (Miriam Yeung). In the first film Love in a Puff, Pang uses a tool he has mastered already from previous directorial efforts (Men Suddenly in Black, Dream Home); critiquing HK society, only this time for the purpose of introducing a sweet coupling.
It is a government and societal policy change that would result in the two lovers crossing paths for the first time thanks to the introduced legislation that requires citizens of Hong Kong to quit smoking indoors. Within their respective clique of friends, Jimmy and Cherie would meet each other’s eyes in an alley, surrounded by the constant haze of smoke and ambiguity of contemporary flings and relationship woes, both already semi-committed to somebody else, but after just a few scenes, their chemistry is palpable and organic.
The Love trilogy (for sake of brevity) holds its own as an epic romance; it begins strongly with cult-like implications in regards to the indie sensibilities, naturalism and genuine banter that results in Love in a Puff, it then takes somewhat of a dip for the mainland appeasing second film Love in The Buff by choosing simply to throw melodrama and famous actresses and singers into the mix, resulting in an altogether less charming, humorous and stilted effort that reflects a lot of mainland marketed Hong Kong cinema at the time. Thankfully, Love Off The Cuff captures the magic of the first film, and provides just enough quirky drama in the script to challenge the odds of a contemporary upper middle-class relationship in the marvellous urban sprawl that is Hong Kong.
None of this would matter if the couple were not charming, but they damn well are, with beautiful chemistry and perfect comic timing, both Jimmy and Cherie play off each other’s strengths and history. It feels like we are visiting friends again, but also bitter-sweet, as we are just staying for the layover.
They are now both settled and successful, but Pang Ho-Cheung continues to focus on the daily minutiae; an essence of Hong Kong cinema that lives and breathes through the social communication and lifestyle exhibited through Jimmy and Cherie’s separate busy schedules and long-term companions. In regards to the supporting cast, familiarity and warmth emanate from the performances of these shameless lifelong friends that can do or say as they please around Jimmy and Cherie as the drama simmers in the background. They are an hilarious and relatable element that have grown throughout the trilogy as much as the pivotal couple.
The aforementioned drama is simple and relatable universal concerns that plague the couple, chief among them aging, as Cherie is four years older than Jimmy, after all, and the niggling voice that settling down requires having a kid begins to have an effect. This puts man-child Jimmy, who would rather blow his pay check on a limited-edition toy than a house deposit, in a spot.
This is further complicated by plot factors such as his ‘god-mother’ Flora (Jiang Mengjie) coming to stay with them. This character from Canada (where Jimmy grew up) turns out to be in-fact a childhood friend who is much younger than Cherie, and overtly friendly and flirty to Jimmy. When her real reason for visiting is revealed, it throws into question the future of their relationship as Jimmy prioritizes poorly, with shades of his lacking candour from the first film. On the other end of the spectrum, Cherie’s father makes an entrance back into her life with a much-younger bride-to-be in tow.
Although these are quite generic elements of a romantic comedy, Pang’s eye ensures even the most mundane of scenes is given a vibrancy and energy that is specific only to the city it is set in. He artfully captures everyday places and objects, utilising the brightly lit social hubs and cramped personal spaces to let the contemporary drama play out. Love Off The Cuff is another fantastic Pang Ho-cheung film; a beautifully honest end to a fairly simple trilogy of a modern relationship that is powered by charm impossible to deny, and I will miss it.