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'Love Off The Cuff' director talks Hong Kong festival opener

Filmmaker Pang Ho Cheung on the third part of his rom-com trilogy, which opens the Hong Kong International Film Festival.

Following the box-office success of Love In The Buff in 2012, which won Miriam Yeung the best actress prize at the Hong Kong Film Awards, the most frequent question asked of Hong Kong director Pang Ho Cheung was about a third instalment.

Love In The Buff was the sequel to 2010’s Love In A Puff, a romantic comedy that introduced the bantering and bickering couple played by Yeung and Shawn Yue. The two stars were eager to reunite for a third chapter while Hong Kong-based Media Asia, which financed the first two films, was more than willing to give Pang the go-ahead, as were new investors.

But the filmmaker wouldn’t bite easily. He knew full well the pressure of making a sequel and the weight of expectation that comes from dedicated fans who have been faithfully following the series. “If I ever did it again, I’d better get it right,” he says.

Pang ho cheung Love Off The Cuff

Pang Ho Cheung on set with his Love Off The Cuff stars

The main reason for the five-year gap between the second and third instalments, however, was Pang’s dissatisfaction with the story ideas, until he started recalling his near-death experience in Japan’s March 2011 earthquake. The disaster struck while he was in a high-rise in Tokyo, preparing for the worst as the building swayed violently. “When thrown into a natural disaster, how we react shows our real personality,” says Pang. “Just 10 seconds in a crisis tells more than a lifetime together.”

Unlike the second film, the new movie is not about a third party ruining the couple’s relationship. “It’s easier if there’s another woman. You can just get rid of her,” says Pang. “But the problem is inherent this time, which makes it more challenging. The couple have to face up to their own personality differences and decide whether the other half is the right person for the rest of their life.”

Genre twister

As with the previous instalments, Pang enjoys mixing genres. The new film opens with a horror prologue and features sci-fi fantasy elements such as the appearance of a UFO. Pang also tackles the action genre for the first time, bringing fight sequences to his romantic comedy.

Love Off The Cuff

Love Off The Cuff

With a $10m budget, the latest film is the most expensive in the trilogy. There were 34 shooting days, which was only a day short of the first two films combined. Pang explains that the sci-fi and action scenes required much longer to set up and shoot.

Tokyo was Pang’s first choice for the setting of the film’s earthquake scene, but it turned out to be too costly. Osaka was another option, but it lacks the skyscraper landscape. Taipei, which is also prone to strong tremors, was selected in the end. Taiwan’s capital was used only for a small portion of the shoot, however, which took place primarily in Hong Kong. The first film was also set in Hong Kong, before the couple relocated separately to Beijing in the second film.

Pang is noted for his imaginative stories and sharp-witted scripts but he admits to being a slow writer. While he is open to working with different DoPs to create a varied visual impact — he worked with Chou Yi-hsien from Taiwan for the first time on Love Off The Cuff — he is more comfortable sticking to his long-time writers Jimmy Wan and Luk Yee Sum. “They know me well. We can communicate easily,” he says.

Despite his busy schedule as a writer/director, Pang takes time out to produce for new filmmakers such as Wan, Luk and Jason Kwan, the DoP on both Love In A Puff and Love In The Buff. The latter’s directorial debut A Nail Clipper Romance, starring Zhou Dongyu and Joseph Chang, opens on April 14. “Creative writing is a very long process that will make you feel lost in your own world,” says Pang, who prefers to write his own dialogue. “When it’s not going anywhere, I will give it a break. Producing is a good break for me. I always feel more refreshed when I return to my writing afterwards.”

Love Off The Cuff will open this year’s HKIFF on April 11 — a hat-trick for Pang, whose Aberdeen and Love In The Buff kicked off the festival in 2014 and 2012 respectively. The film’s Hong Kong release is scheduled for April 27.

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