Film Review: Love in the Buff

Winning romantic comedy of Hong Kong lovers unable to commit once they move to Beijing. Strong sequel to the cult favorite <i>Love in a Puff</i>.

Relationships hit the same snags in Beijing as they do everywhere else in the charming romantic comedy Love in the Buff. A sequel to Love in a Puff, this film transplants its Hong Kong characters to a new setting but keeps their problems intact. A moderate hit in Asia, Love in the Buff has something worthwhile to say to anyone troubled by love.

In the original film, Cherie (Miriam Yeung) and Jimmy (Shawn Yue) met over cigarettes and impulsively moved in together. Nine months later, Cherie, a clerk in a cosmetics store, and Jimmy, working his way up in an advertising agency, have reached an impasse. Several years older than Jimmy, Cherie is ready to settle down. But Jimmy is so immature that she decides to leave him.

Both end up in Beijing, where Jimmy has a fling with airline stewardess You-you (Mini Yang) while Cherie meets Sam (Xu Zheng), a solid, respectable electrical engineer. The former lovers are drawn back to each other, however, and through texts, e-mails and cell-phone calls resume their affair.

Director Pang Ho-Cheung (who also co-wrote the script with Luk Yee Sun) has an acute grasp of how relationships form, evolve and fail. His characters are warm-hearted and generous, but defensive over past hurts. They are also fundamentally lonely, which adds a tinge of urgency to their dinner dates and bar-hopping. Physical attraction is the easy part in Love in the Buff. What's hard is dropping your guard.

The writers probe with a light but incisive hand into the petty squabbles, disappointments and betrayals that split couples apart. The latter half of the story leans more towards drama than comedy, leading to some repetitive scenes and sluggish pacing. But by then we've learned enough about the characters to care about their choices—and to realize that, at least in Pang Ho-Cheung's hands, love is never fair.

The film has fun with old-fashioned traditions, like parents sitting in parks arranging blind dates, but what's striking about Love in the Buff is its cosmopolitan style. Like its characters, the film's apartments, offices and restaurants are glamorous and upscale. The film also feels more contemporary and realistic than many of its Western equivalents. iPads provide plot twists, and people actually seem to work for a living.

Yue manages to remain appealing despite playing a character who is irresponsible and self-centered. Yeung is assured throughout, particularly in some heartbreaking moments when she realizes her dreams have failed her. A strong supporting cast includes a wistful cameo from former Cantopop star Linda Wong and a steely turn by Ekin Cheng, a major movie star and singer from the 1990s.

Good film romances are hard to come by these days. Love in the Buff has the humor, bite and style to win over adventurous viewers.