Love Off the Cuff (Pang Ho-cheung, 2017)

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Love Off the Cuff starts with a horror movie, a tale set in the recent past about a village terrorized by a monster that eats children. As creepy as it is ridiculous, it functions as a none-too-subtle allegory for the crisis at the heart of the relationship between Cherie (Miriam Yueng) and Jimmy (Shawn Yue), which we’ve seen grow from its beginnings at shared cigarette breaks in Love in a Puff to the inevitable break-up/reunion cycle in Love in the Buff. Seven years on from the first film (which remains arguably the best romantic film of the decade), Cherie and Jimmy are comfortably living together back in Hong Kong, but visits from long-lost family members serve to highlight the rut they’ve found themselves in. Cherie’s father, who abandoned her, her mother and her brother years ago, shows up with a very young bride-to-be and looks to party with Jimmy. While Jimmy’s visiting godmother turns out to be a much younger woman (“She’s from Canada, they’re very liberal there. What if she prances about in her bra?” Cherie fearfully exclaims). The two visits inspire insecurity in Cherie: she’s jealous of the younger woman and fearful that Jimmy will turn out like her lecherous father, but more devastatingly they highlight the degree to which she was already dissatisfied with Jimmy’s childishness.

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The conundrum is that they’re relationship had always been founded on a shared sense of playful whimsey, from the moment he first charmed her by dropping dry ice in a toilet to fill a bathroom with fog in the first film. The problem she finds isn’t so much that Jimmy needs to grow up, but that they need to find some way to both balance their shared silliness with the responsibilities that come with age: saving growing paychecks and bonuses for an apartment rather than buying tacky art objects, raising a child rather than picking fights with kids at the bouncy house. The balance proves so hard to find that it ultimately breaks the film: fantasy takes over as Cherie realizes (with the help of some unusual friends) that life is a 50/50 shot, that relationships may not work, but that’s no reason to end them. In a way, this mostly silly, gloriously vulgar (the first film famously earned a Category III rating in Hong Kong for its obscene language, which this one tops in every way, if the subtitles are in any way accurate) romantic comedy is far wiser about love than any relationship film I’ve seen in quite awhile. It understands, in a deeply goofy way, the profound insecurity in placing your trust in and truly committing to a life spent with one other person. How scary, absurd and lovely that can be.

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