They love and they bluff
After a macabre and rather random opening chapter that serves mainly to get our attention, we learn that Cherie (徐春嬌) and Jimmy (張志明) are a couple and banter with each other in scathingly honest Cantonese.
But lately, their relationship has hit a low. Jimmy forgot to attend the birthday dinner for Cherie's grandmother and brought his clients to a barbeque that Cherie hopes to be a personal time. At the same time, Jimmy relocates from Hong Kong to Beijing for work. He meets flight attendant Youyou (尚優優) on the way and starts a new relationship with her.
Six months later, Cherie is also dispatched to Beijing for her job, and bumps into Jimmy and Youyou. From there on, Cherie and Jimmy start an on-again, off-again affair where they cannot decide whether they want to go separate ways or reunite.
Reflecting both realities and anxieties about the power shift between Hong Kong and Beijing, “Love in the Buff” works both the nostalgia of Hong Kong's past and the intoxicating euphoria of Beijing's rise.
As for nostalgia, Cherie tells Jimmy during their rendezvous of her pas relationship with Ekin Cheng (鄭伊健) — played by the iconic Hong Kong star himself in cameo. And in Jimmy's mind, nothing surpasses the microwave spaghetti from Hong Kong's convenience stores as gourmet food.
As we follow Cherie, Jimmy and their social circles, we see Beijing as a middle class playground with young professionals hopping between posh restaurants, bars, dance clubs, lounges, gyms and hotels to indulge in the urban life and bask in each other's company.
In addition to Cherie and Jimmy, played by Miriam Yeung (楊千嬅) and Shawn Yue (余文樂) respectively, the vivid characters around them make “Love in the Buff” delectable.
Jimmy's new girlfriend Youyou (尚優優), played by Mini Yang (楊冪), is sophisticated, sensitive, sensual and smart — perhaps conceptualized as an ideal girlfriend. In a titillating dramatic stroke by director Ho-Cheung Pang (彭浩翔), Youyou rewards Jimmy with sex for fending off another man's brusque advances on her. Meanwhile, the film portrays the ideal husband in Sam. Played by Xu Zheng (徐峥), Sam is a mechanical engineer trained at Beijing's Tsinghua University (清華大學) who met Cherie through picking up the cellphone she dropped in the toilet. Hurt from a previous relationship, Sam is ready to settle down once — if ever — Cherie says “I do.”
One of the film's most striking scenes shows Cherie's quirky colleague Brenda taking her to the “blind date market” in a park, where aunts and grandmothers sit or stand with cardboard ad signs and bargain blind dates for their younger kin like livestock or fresh produce. A household registration in Beijing, a profession with secure income and ownership of real estate are all selling points in this market of potential husbands and wives. Whereas Brenda landed a dream catch through blind dating, in the impossibly handsome Ben, played by Huang Xiaoming (黃曉明), Cherie's romance was not so easily resolved.
The film's abundance of lightheartedness, saucy quips, and food-relationship analogies only makes the emotional moments more visceral when they come, such as when Jimmy and Cherie had to finally confront the fact that their affair is bringing them nowhere and increasingly crippling for everyone involved, including Youyou and Sam. Eventually it was time for Cherie and Jimmy to choose whom they want to be with and what they want to change. Near the film's conclusion, I personally thought they should separate for good.
“Love in the Buff” is a refreshing counterpoint to the starry-eyed kind of puppy love that plagues many Taiwanese films today. I am now intrigued to revisit its 2010 predecessor “Love in a Puff” (志明與春嬌), which chronicles how Cherie and Jimmy first met as fellow smokers in a back alley. ■
'Love in the Buff' (春嬌與志明) ► Directed by Ho-Cheung Pang (彭浩翔) / With Miriam Yeung Chin Wah (楊千嬅), Shawn Yue (余文樂) and Mini Yang (楊冪) / Comedy, Romance / 2012 / Hong Kong, China /
112 min / ★★★★☆ / Now Showing
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