Pang Ho-cheung Capsule Reviews

Pang Ho-cheung Capsule Reviews

Exodus (2007) — November 10, 2014

Very stylish Pang Ho-cheung film (Hong Kong has never looked more eerily alien) in which a cop suspects there may be a conspiracy of women to kill all the men on the planet. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that if we men have to have one guy out there standing up for us, we can’t do better than Simon Yam.

Love in a Puff (2010) — July 29, 2014

Watching this immediately after Sophie’s Revenge was whiplash-inducing. That film is an international co-production set in a characterless, near invisible Beijing, a high concept, glossy stab at Hollywood-style romantic comedy (with Zhang Ziyi channeling everything from Bridget Jones to Caroline in the City). Pang Ho-chuneg’s romantic comedy, on the other hand, is a indie (or “indie”) take on the genre, filmed seemingly on the fly in the alleys, cellphones, and nightclubs of Hong Kong at the pace and rhythm of everyday life. Where Sophie’s Revenge was a big hit, Love in a Puff saw its box office take suffer when it was given a Category III rating. Hong Kong’s Category III is roughly a combination of America’s R and NC-17 ratings. It’s traditionally the home of porn and ultra-violence and horror. There are no such things in Love in a Puff, which as far as I can tell got the rating simply because of its profane language, or in other words ‘No other Hong Kong movies in recent memory give a more vivid sense of how Hong Kong people talk in real life.’ (Perry Lam in Muse Magazine).

The film follows the initial meeting and developing relationship of Cherie (Miriam Yeung) and Jimmy (Shawn Yue) over the course of a week. The two meet at a communal smoking area, Hong Kong having initiated an anti-indoor smoking ordinance, driving the tobacco addicts into the few remaining dark corners of the city. Pang intersperses short interviews with the various characters, in the style of TV mockumentary confessionals, but the bulk of the film is devoted to following the main characters and the very small moments that lead them to fall in love. It’s shot in the peripatetic style that’s become international shorthand for Realism! but with the off-hand kind of pictorial virtuosity that defines Hong Kong cinema. Where the images of Sophie’s Revenge are pretty but artificial, manufactured, Pang’s images are just as colorful, just as beautiful, but seem to arise, like the love story itself, spontaneously out of the city itself.

Added June 22, 2015:
I don’t know if this is the best romantic comedy of the decade. Hell, it might not even be the best Miriam Yeung romantic comedy of the decade. But it’s really good. Building a romance not out of situation, or out of plot, but out of the small encounters, the looks, the (mis-)understandings that make up everyday life, within the rhythms and textures of a lived-in world, an actual city at work, rather than an idealized cinematic space.

Dream Home (2010) — July 22, 2020

Extremely brutal and gory black black comedy about one woman’s obsessive pursuit of an apartment with a view of the sea. The grotesqueries are beautifully shot by regular Jia Zhangke cinematographer Yu Lik-wai.

The most disturbing thing about it though was that my cat seemed to be super interested in all the most violent parts. Hope he’s not getting any ideas.

Love in the Buff (2012) — July 29, 2014

Pang Ho-cheung’s sequel to Love in a Puff, released two years later but following the previous film directly. Cherie and Jimmy, after dating for some time, breakup and move, separately, to Beijing. There they strike up new relationships (Jimmy with a flight attendant played by Mi Yang; Cherie with a very nice bald guy), but when they meet again they’re inevitably drawn back together.

While not as groundbreaking as the first film, both in the language (toned down) and the characters (inevitable, since we already know these two people so well), it is a step forward in filmmaking for Pang. Gone are the funny but otherwise obtrusive interview segments while the camera is a little more grounded. We do get some meta-comic guest appearances from Ekin Cheng, Huang Xiaoming, and Linda Wong that are reasonably successful, but it’s mostly the performances of Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue that make this one so compelling. Yeung won the Best Actress Hong Kong Film Award for her performance, and Yue is just as good, with an understated, cock-eyed charm reminiscent of a young Chow Yun-fat.

Women Who Know How to Flirt are the Luckiest (2014) — February 6, 2015

“You’re the tomato and I’m the prune.”