Ho-Cheung Pang (Isabella, Dream Home, Love In A Puff, Exodus), definitely one of the current Hong Kong greats and one of the few directors that seem almost unable to disappoint. Love In The Buff is the follow-up to his own surprise hit Love In The Puff and while Pang was forced to throw some elements from the original overboard, Buff turned out to be a very worthy sequel, possibly even better than its predecessor.
Love In A Puff was never meant to be a (modest) hit. Originally it was little more than a diversion for Ho-cheung Pang, a project he set up to keep busy while waiting for Dream Home to free itself from release limbo. But fans liked his film, centered around a series of short smoke breaks bringing two people together. So much in fact that Pang decided to make a sequel.
The biggest problem for Pang was that he didn't want to part from his main characters. At the end of the first film the two protagonists decided that they were going to quit smoking, which is a little tricky when the entire concept of your film is centered around a series of smoke breaks. So Pang ditched the whole smoking thing, instead he focused more on the comfortable, enjoyable and open atmosphere that helped to define the first film.
Soon after the events of the first film Jimmy and Cherie break up. Jimmy moves to Beijing while Cherie stays behind in Hong Kong. The break-up isn't too clean and in order to forget about Cherie Jimmy quickly loses himself in a new relationship. But 6 months later an opportunity presents itself for Cherie and she too ends up in Beijing. It doesn't take long before the two bump into each other, making it immediately clear that not all the feelings they held for each other have subsided.
On a visual level, it's pretty amazing to see that Pang is still making progress. He combines lavish and ultra-stylish cinematography with more playfull and dynamic camerawork to create something that is quite unique. The film is filled to the brim with well-considered, lusly lighted and perfectly executed shots, but at the same time it never feels cold and/or calculated, instead the camerawork gives off a veru cozy, warm and comfortable vibe. Love In The Buff is without a doubt one of Pang's greatest visual accomplishments.
The soundtrack is a bit poppier than I expected, but it does fit the more informal atmosphere of the film. There are of course some more typical, often piano-based tracks to go with the stylish visuals, while the poppy music helps to ground the characters, giving them a fleshier and more human touch. The selection of music is strong across the board though, so no complaints there.
With Shawn Yue leading the pack you can be sure that the quality of the acting won't lag too far behind. Even though I'm still not quite fond of Miriam Yeung she does a pretty good job, though obviously helped by the people around her. Mini Yang and Zheng Xu are strong secondary characters, on top of that Pang has a couple of very funny and surprising cameos to compliment to cast.
Love In The Buff is not a very complex film, though it is recommended to watch Love In A Puff first. While it is possible to watch this as a separate film, you'll miss out on a lot of the finer points that play between Jimmy and Cherie. The film presents a nice mix of romance and comedy and even though the final half hour has trouble keeping a good balance between these two elements, the film never becomes too cheesy or sentimental.
Love In The Buff is a very worthy sequel. It's hard to say which film is the better one of the two, for that I should probably watch them once more, back to back. Pang is definitely on a winning streak here, seemingly unable to produce bad films anymore. None of his recent efforts match the genius of Isabella, but that's about the only complaint I have. Love In The Buff turned out to be a very funny, enjoyable and comfortable film, maybe even warranting a third and final return to happenings between Jimmy and Cherie.