NZIFF ’10: Love in a Puff (志明與春嬌)

nziff ’10: Love in a Puff (志明與春嬌)
Dir. Pang Ho-cheung | Hong Kong | 2010 | 103 mins.

A very funny romantic comedy that centres on a group of twenty-somethings in Hong Kong navigating the first, often tricky moves of budding relationships. Since the introduction of a public-building smoking ban enacted a few years ago, there has been a rise in a social phenomenon that newspaper trend pieces like to call ‘smirting’: meeting people in a communal outdoor smoking area with the pretence of smoking but actually using the opportunity to flirt. It’s a bit silly and probably doesn’t happen all that often in real life, but it makes for a really great film.

The wonderfully meandering narrative contains echoes of Haruki Murakami’s novel After Dark and, since it was released in Hong Kong early last year, could be said to anticipate a certain aesthetic used to great effect in another film about the first timid movements toward love, last year’s (500) Days of Summer. Both films are peppered with ‘confessional’ interjections from the principal characters about their experiences falling in and out of love,* which, far from being an unreal distraction, serve almost to create a documentary-fiction hybrid and make the characters feel immediately accessible. Director Pang is pretty obviously influenced by fellow Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai: Puff has the same excited, energetic feel as Wong’s best film Chungking Express, and contains some of the same aesthetic touches as the little-seen but utterly brilliant Wong Kar-wai-produced 1997 film First Love: Litter on the Breeze.

Love in a Puff screens in the upcoming Hong Kong Film Festival at Rialto cinemas.

*Vaguely academic side-note: In an age when the restoration of old films aims to significantly reduce or remove scratches and other damage from prints, it’s interesting that a marker of authenticity for a certain kind of (young) filmmaker is exactly the opposite of what preservationists are trying to eliminate. The interview segments in both Love in a Puff and (500) Days employ a faux-8mm style, sometimes with added artifacts like extra grain and various other types of film damage. (The latter film takes this even further, regularly employing such techniques throughout the film, including the character-establishing opening credits.) A similar method was used in Martin Hynes’ 2007 film The Go-Getter, and Xavier Dolan incorporates the same marker of authenticity in his feature debut, J’ai tué ma mère. Dolan is in his early twenties, and the film, which is largely autobiographical, takes place when he was 16. Given this, he would have been 7 or 8 years old in the late-’90s—well into the era of Handycams and other hand-held consumer video recorders—yet at the end of the film we see footage of he and his mother playing on a beach, and it’s been made to look like 16mm film: it’s the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a film where such a segment would logically have taken place in the ’70s, not the ’90s—but it somehow feels right anyway.