Daniel Wu

Hot Summer Days (全城熱戀熱辣辣)

hot summer days

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

Released: 2010
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
Reviewed: 2015

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (單身男女)

dont go breaking my heart

 

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart posits the essential question: would you rather choose a rascally Louis Koo or an idealized Daniel Wu? The answer takes a while to arrive at, and if you don’t mind waiting a few years (that’s movie years) to figure out the answer, you might enjoy this one. Then again, you might find such an extended romance plodding.

After an unexpected run-in with her ex-boyfriend and his pregnant wife, a distressed Zixin (Gao Yuanyuan) nearly becomes roadkill. Luckily Qihong (Wu), a frustrated architect in the guise of an unkempt vagabond, stops downing his bottle of Jack long enough to sweep in and rescue her. She also catches the eye of Shen-Ran, who works in the building across from hers and, if we are honest, is kind of a stalker. When he notices her feeling down, he tries to cheer her up with post-it art on his window.

It’s a cute little plot device that will make the romantics sigh, but it causes a good deal of drama. Shen-Ran finally arranges a face-to-face meeting with Zixin but accidentally attracts a busty worker in the office below. Rather than excuse himself, he makes the first of many mistakes that leave Zixin wondering whether he’s worth it.

If this was real life, the problem would sort itself out. Now that Qihong has a new muse, he rededicates himself to designing award winning skyscrapers, and decides to shower and shave. He ends up being the perfect antidote for Shen-Ran’s sometimes childish and unfaithful behavior, and Zixin understandably begins to fall for him as well. Except Shen-Ran is still very much in her life. Girl’s in a pickle.

The unhurried pace at which the romance unfolds ends up being one of the strengths of the movie. The characters don’t feel pushed into a single trajectory but have room to occasionally pause and observe their relationships from the sidelines. When Zixin wants to step back from a suitor, it feels natural, just as it does when she thinks about rekindling her affair.

This should make the characters, or at least their actions, seem closer to reality, but they end up feeling less intimate despite the strong screen presence of all three actors. Gao is a sweet lead, and Koo and Wu likewise play to their strengths as the suave and gentle leading man, respectively. But the characters are never fully realized. Shen-Ran has a way with post-its, candles, and magic tricks, but I never really understood why Zixin loved him so much, especially with Qihong at her side. Was it because he was perfect almost to the point of dullness?

The skin-deep characterization in some ways matches the glamorous, cosmopolitan sheen of the film, made more for Mainland tastes than for Hong Kong. There’s nary a street shot without a label, and directors Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai seem to have gone with the rule that there’s no such thing as too much product placement. It’s a shame that brands and logos end up substituting for Hong Kong’s urban beauty, otherwise captured vibrantly and with crystal clarity by To and Wai.

Trailer featuring “Love is Very Simple” (愛很簡單) by David Tao:

Released: 2011
Prod: Johnnie To 杜琪峰; Wai Ka-Fai 韋家輝
Dir: Johnnie To 杜琪峰; Wai Ka-Fai 韋家輝
Writer: Wai Ka-Fai 韋家輝; Yau Nai-Hoi 游乃海; Ray Chan 陳偉斌; Jevons Au 歐文傑
Cast: Louis Koo 古天樂; Daniel Wu 吳彥祖; Gao Yuanyuan 高圓圓; Lam Suet 林雪; Larisa 瑞莎; JJ Jia 賈曉晨; Terence Yin 尹子維; Selena Li 李詩韻; Iva Law 羅泳嫻
Time: 114 min
Lang: Cantonese, Mandarin, some English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

McDull, the Alumni (春田花花同學會)

mcdull the alumni

“Magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life,” reads a line from Alan Bennett’s award winning play The History Boys. The sentiment applies to a good many people and situations, though usually not to a Chinese New Year film and not to one starring a cartoon pig. The festive comedies are better known for riotous gags and irreverent humor than for evoking existential angst. But like previous movies in the McDull franchise, this one couches sober self-reflection in the whimsy of Alice Mak’s animation.

The little porker’s third big screen outing still bears some trademarks of a New Year’s film. There are cameos aplenty and it is rich in local flavor. A drinking game with mentions of BBQ pork rice would end badly. It’s also fun and funny, something you can watch with the kids. Chances are, you’ll be more offended by the toilet humor than they are. And that’s pretty much the dividing line for the film’s audience. I don’t mean that the movie separates those who have a preoccupation with the call of nature with those who do not, but I suspect that children are watching an entirely different film than adults.

McDull, the Alumni has no discernable plot. The nearest thing to one is a hostage crisis on Chinese New Year’s Eve and the upcoming almost-50th anniversary of the Springfield Blossom Kindergarten. Since the movie is told in vignettes, the story allows for gags aplenty, many of which involve food. Diners at the famous Jumbo floating restaurant in Aberdeen stuff themselves silly and make unintelligible sounds while trying to order more grub, and a hungry office worker (Jaycee Chan) uses the heat generated by his computer to poach an egg.

Beneath the silliness, however, lies a bittersweet message about success, particularly a Hong Kong brand of it that includes a flashy title and a feeling of self-importance. Springfield’s hot pot reunion dinner gives the principal (Anthony Wong) and teacher Miss Chan (The Pancakes) cause to teach the students about becoming pillars of society. At the same time, one of the school’s graduates, May (Zhou Bichang, aka Bibi Chow), reflects on her life choices when she is taken hostage.

The children, rather farm animals’, hopes and candid observations are amusing, but their innocence also disguises piercing truths. A recent graduate (Isabella Leong) rushes to a BBQ shop hoping to be be hired as a rice scooper. What the boss (Christopher Doyle) really needs is a chicken chopper, and her miscalculation of the job market nearly costs her the job. Poor McDull, never the brightest pig on the block, meanwhile decides he wants to be an OL (office lady) when he grows up because he doesn’t have to wear pants. He finds himself in a bind when he decides he also wants to eat shark fin soup. He briefly considers a future as a doctor or lawyer since they can always afford the delicacy.

McDull, the Alumni is not as strong as the first two films, but it leaves you with the same mix of melancholy and tempered optimism. Mixing the animation with live action turns out to be hit and miss. The cavalcade of stars does distract and comes off as gimmicky, but Zhou, winner of the Mainland’s Super Girl singing contest and the least glamorous and famous of the actors, captures the film’s tone the best. She isn’t very expressive but has a shy, bewildered look that is right for the part, conveying the overwhelming feeling of a woman who has left the pastels and security of youth for good.

“Fing Fing吓” by The Pancakes (“We have to work OT because we didn’t really work before 6 o’clock…..”):

Released: 2006
Prod: Peter Chan 陳可辛; Jojo Hui 許月珍; Brian Tse 謝立文
Dir: Samson Chiu 趙良駿
Writer: Brian Tse 謝立文
Cast: Ronald Cheng 鄭中基; Anthony Wong 黃秋生; Gigi Leung 梁詠琪; Sandra Ng 吳君如; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Bibi Chow 周筆暢Chen Bolin 陳柏霖; Josie Ho 何超儀; Kelly Chen 陳慧琳; Jaycee Chan 房祖名Shawn Yue 余文樂Miki Yeung 楊愛瑾Jan Lamb 林海峰Francis Ng 吳鎮宇; Cheung Tat-Ming 張達明; Nicholas Tse 謝霆鋒Michael Miu 苗僑偉; Tats Lau 劉以達Alex Fong Lik-Sun 方力申Andrew Lin 連凱Daniel Wu 吳彥祖Terence Yin 尹子維Conroy Chan 陳子聰Isabella Leong 梁洛施Jim Chim 詹瑞文; Teresa Fu 傅穎Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Wayne Lai 黎耀祥; Eddie Cheung 張兆輝Yip Wing-Sze 葉詠詩; Hong Kong Sinfonietta; Wong Yau-Nam 黃又南Christopher Doyle 杜可風; Chet Lam 林一峰; John Shum 岑建勳; Kary Ng 吳雨霏; Jane Zhang 張靚穎
Time: 91 min
Lang: Cantonese, some English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014