Love Off the Cuff

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/30/17 14:12:39

"Making it work's never easy, but it's still funny."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Pang Ho-cheung’s "Love Off the Cuff" looks like a period horror movie as it opens (especially for those of us that can’t read the Chinese opening titles), and this bit goes on long enough that a viewer might start to wonder whether the theater had ingested the wrong DCP into their projection system. It says something that, despite having paid for a romantic comedy, I’d have happily watched this monster movie; no matter what he’s doing, Pang has a sense of fun even when he’s playing something straight. That’s what makes this one pretty good when it does finally deliver the expected; Pang and his cast can make this silly while still finding something real to consider in the characters’ relationship.

For those who came in late, Jimmy Cheung (Shawn Yue Man-lok) and Cherie Yu (Miriam Yeung Chin-wah) met eight years ago when their smoke breaks coincided and started going out even though she’s a few years older than him; they split but eventually reconnected when both were transferred from Hong Kong to Beijing. Together ever since, they’re now back home, and things have been going well, although they’ve maybe fallen into a rut, despite the public indecency charges they are hit with early on. For better or worse, a couple visitors could throw things upside down: Cherie’s father (Paul Chun Pui) has arrived with his fiance Apple (Wang Xiaochen), who may be younger than the daughter, while Jimmy’s “Godmother” Flora (Jiang Meng-jie) is also younger, with that being a joke nickname given to her while they were kids in Toronto, and she’s got a big favor to ask.

This is Pang’s third visit with the couple he, Shawn Yue, and Miriam Yeung first introduced in Love in a Puff, and it’s impressive just for being the third entry in a romantic comedy series that in many ways has the same basic conflict without wrecking what made it work in the first place. Part of this is that, for all that both threads tend to remind Cherie that older men tend to seek younger women rather than vice versa, there’s not a lot of overt talk of this - it ties in with a lot of Cherie’s other fears and Jimmy’s temptations, but it’s also something that, by dint of them getting this far, is mostly accepted.

There is something a bit low-stakes by the time you get to Romantic Comedy Part III, of course; if the earlier episodes meant anything, then a lot of misunderstandings will clear themselves up, and they do. On the other hand, that lets Pang and co-writers Jimmy Wan Chi-man and Jody Luk Yi-sam jump straight to jokes with relative ease. The first bit with Cherie and Jimmy takes a quick turn into raunchy physical comedy without ever seeming particularly cruel about it, which isn’t always easy to pull off, and while the movie isn’t the slapstick sex farce that Pang and his “Making Film” company sometimes crank out, it's a welcome return to the less uptight Hong Kong for the characters. They weren’t completely out of their element in Beijing, but certainly seem more comfortable making occasionally crude jokes in Cantonese than the being glossily successful in Mandarin.

And, of course, there's real pleasure watching Yeung and Yue play off each other with practiced ease. Yeung is almost always a delight, with Cherie one of her best roles, and while she only has a relative few moments of broad comedy this time around, she can do a lot with a withering look, something that ties in with how well she handles Cherie’s insecurities and lets her get a little more serious and willing to get settled now that the character is 40 without transforming or draining the quirk from her. Yue remains adept at making Jimmy a bit of a good-natured goof, and he’s well able to sell foolishly digging his way into a hole and earnestly making his way out. The new and previously-underused people in the mix are real pluses as well; Paul Chun plays Cherie’s dad as a big stereotype but still finds a bit of humanity in him, and Jiang Meng-jie can sell a joke as well as disrupt a situation with her good looks. There are a lot of fun people in smaller roles, too, with Susan Siu Yam-yam (known as “Yum-yum Shaw” back in the day) a fun choice for Cherie’s mother and Derek Tsang playing well off the rest of the cast as Cherie’s brother.

They feel fresh, too; it’s notable that Pang has never really made the same movie twice here: Where the first had an indie feel with faux-documentary cutaways, "Love in the Buff" was closer to a sleek Chinese rom-com and this one gets genuinely offbeat at points - even after some of the weird detours he takes, it's still no mean feat that Pang can have a 40-year-old woman in a Yatterman costume at her friend's cosplay karaoke birthday party lecture her boyfriend in needing to grow up and have it work. It does, though, and while it’s not quite so easy to jump in here as with either of the first two, it’s worth it, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this crew goes if they go for number four in the next few years.

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