As China continues to increase its influence in mainstream cinema, buying out cinema chains and producing films with English dubs for Western consumers, it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t consider easing this cultural transition with an adroit finesse and forward planning….
Love Off the Cuff is the third entry in the Love in a Puff series and the first internationally released film of the trilogy. Any access to previous installments is impossible without piracy or a quick wikipedia check, but the film’s Western advertisements seem adamant to conceal itself as a standalone movie. Marketed here primarily with posters of a dull and quiet colour palette featuring its loving protagonists in a moment of sweet companionship, the suggestion here is of a light-hearted romantic comedy with some indie qualities thrown in to give it a measure of sincerity or authenticity.
So imagine how jarring it is to witness a giant, hairy monster called the Gat Gat Gong holding the severed head of an old woman to frighten the children he intends to eat. Opening with the story of a young girl who defeats a monster by throwing a melon at its face, Love Off the Cuff certainly swerves in unexpected direction. Finally we meet the lovers of seven years, Cherie and Jimmy, subsequently arrested for being caught in a compromising act of implicit fellatio.
Since nothing else is established in these introductory moments, the raunchy rom-com is clearly exclusive to newcomers to the series. Filled with primarily double-entendres that can be troubling at times for its casual attitude to rape, the comedy lacks much of the galvanizing effect of its tonally antipodal opener. Its protagonists are older and, as such, more introspective towards their own maturity – a concern which carries the story for the rest of its two hour length.
At thirty-five, and significantly older than her boyfriend, Cherie feels dubious at the subdued and playful demeanor of Jimmy in his daily life. Realizing how long they’ve been together and that the two are not getting any younger, marriage and family become an increasing possibility but her age makes her insecure that Jimmy will lose his attraction for her.
These are certainly heavy topics for what amounts to a bunch of sex jokes and some menstruation-seeking aliens (no, really). Director and writer, Ho-Cheung Pang, who established himself with soft-focus independent films, juggles the dramatic themes without much success as the necessity to insert the redundant joke of men and women finding each other incomprehensible rears its head time-and-time again with diminishing returns.
It’s a shame because it feels like something with honest sentiment keeps attempting to reach out and communicate itself to the audience. Instead, with the clashing styles and setups, the whole experience comes off like a bizarre fever dream with the third act spiraling into a mess of absurd schemes and plot details.
What’s worse is that, without prior knowledge to either character, both Cherie and Jimmy are presented in extremely unflattering ways, with the worst going to the former. Partially due to the calm performance by Shawn Yue, Cherie’s demands for Jimmy to grow up after any act of frivolity or to stop communicating privately with other women entirely come off as extremely selfish and unhealthily manipulative.
At the heart of this irreverent comedy is an extremely traditional and antiquated form of love, where Cherie wants Jimmy to be a man who can not only provide for her, but to take control of their situations as well. It’s quite troubling when Jimmy romantically concludes that what makes a man “a man” is to have a wife who he can care for, initially comparing his relationship to Cherie with that of their dog.
Still… I would like a spin-off of Gat Gat Gong in a similar style to The Happiness of the Katakuris. Now, that has box-office potential.