There’s a heat wave in the Pearl River Delta, and it’s pushing folks to the limit. The TV station’s frying eggs on car hoods, Mister Softee’s auctioning off ice cream cones, and there’s a lottery just to claim a spot on the beach. But crazy things happen when the temperature hits 48° (that’s 118°F), and one side effect is a lot of really sweaty people. Which may be why the movie features ten, give or take a few, beautiful stars in all their skin-glistening glory. The film is not so much about the summer heat as it is about heat of romance, but it still offers plenty of opportunities to showcase its actors basting in the South China humidity. If you’re watching on a boiling June day, it may be some comfort to know that you aren’t the only one soaking through your undergarments.
Hot Summer Days gets things off to a fiery start with a Latin-infused intro that could easily be mistaken for a Supernatural-era Carlos Santana music video. The pulsating beats eventually cool down but not the temperature, and the omnibus film’s many protagonists suffer under the scorching sun. A pianist (Rene Liu) and a chauffeur (Jacky Cheung) both end up in the hospital after passing out from heat stroke and then begin a text message romance. A young man (Jing Boran) pursues a factory girl (Angelababy) who agrees to go out with him if he waits for her at noon for the next 100 days. A food writer (Vivian Hsu) and a sushi chef (Daniel Wu) try to rekindle an old romance, and a fashion photographer (Duan Yihong) acts like a diva towards his model (Michelle Wai) and assistant (Fu Xinbo) and ends up going blind. About the only one who seems to welcome the heat wave is an air conditioner repairman (Nicholas Tse), but he has problems with his father (Gordon Liu) and has a run-in with a mysterious motorcyclist (Barbie Hsu).
Not content to stop there, writers Wing Shya and Tony Chan also include a pair of talking fish because this is just that sort of overstuffed movie. It tries to cover all the romantic bases, but like these kinds of ensemble films, weak storylines are made more obvious by good ones. Besides the CGI fish, it wouldn’t hurt to excise the somber sushi lovers or the remorseful cameraman. Vivian Hsu is bright but Wu fails to register much emotion even in her cheerful presence. Duan also seems to be overcompensating for his costars and doesn’t get much help from Wai or Fu in his character’s road to redemption.
The remaining stories do register, however, and the film’s ruminations on love are acutely felt. Though Hot Summer Days is too much of a patchwork to leave a cohesive message or even sentiment, there are some fine performances and tender moments to savor. Nicholas Tse, for all his personal distractions, is shaping up to be one of Hong Kong’s finest actors, certainly the bonafide star of his generation. His character is irreverent, resentful, and arrogant but faced with his own shortcomings, is gentle, vulnerable, and deeply changed. Some of the film’s most honest scenes are when he looks wordlessly on at his estranged father and his strong-willed companion. Gordon Liu and Barbie Hsu are able partners to Tse, and the trio turns out an effective vignette.
Jacky Cheung and Rene Liu are another couple that shows strength in measures. Both characters pretend to be a little more in text than they are in life and end up trying to balance disappointment with the hope of love. Their story is neither depressing nor over idealistic, and they capture a mature relationship in its promising, nascent stage. Perhaps at the opposite end of the spectrum is the story of persistence and young love. It has a silly start, and I half-expected Jing to plant himself outside the factory windows with a large boombox thrust triumphantly, or defiantly, in the air. That didn’t happen, and instead both his and Angelababy’s characters experience a quieter revolution, one that leaves them less innocent than they were at the start of the summer. Just like this movie, their love, however brief, ultimately satisfies.
“Hot” (熱辣辣) – theme song by Jacky Cheung
Prod: Fruit Chan 陳果; Paul Cheng 鄭振邦
Dir: Tony Chan 陳國輝; Wing Shya 夏永康
Writer: Tony Chan 陳國輝; Lucretia Ho 何敏文
Cast: Nicholas Tse 謝霆鋒; Jacky Cheung 張學友; Rene Liu 劉若英; Vivian Hsu 徐若瑄; Angelababy 楊穎; Barbie Hsu 徐熙媛; Duan Yihong 段奕宏; Fu Xinbo 付辛博; Jing Boran 井柏然; Daniel Wu 吳彥祖; Michelle Wai 詩雅; Shawn Yue 余文樂; Gordon Liu 劉家輝; Conroy Chan 陳子聰; Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk 張曼玉; Joey Yung 容祖兒; Jan Lamb 林海峰
Time: 93 min
Lang: Cantonese and Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong