When the mercury rises in hot spells running the length of China’s eastern seaboard, so too does passion among the sweating denizens of Tony Chan and Wing Shya’s romantic comedy Hot Summer Days. Caught in the heat are couples fast on the pickup or just counting down days until love blooms, and their stories can cross in the most extraordinary of ways.
In Hong Kong, an odd-jobbing single father (Jacky Cheung) chances into a texting romance with a Shenzhen pianist turned foot masseuse (René Liu) who’s sweltering at home without a working air-conditioner. The region’s heat wave is taking its toll on air-cons in Hong Kong, too, where a repairman (Nicholas Tse) finds business brisk when he’s not in hot pursuit of a mysterious, motorcycle-riding good Samaritan (Barbie Hsu). Also in Hong Kong, a sullen sushi chef (Daniel Wu) opens a restaurant and has an old flame (Vivian Hsu) stop by for a bite to eat and a second chance at winning his heart.
Further north, a hotshot Beijing photographer (Duan Yihong) loses his cool with an aspiring model (Michelle Wai) and vows to destroy her career, but then has to track her down with his assistant (Fu Xinbo) in tow after he starts losing his vision and suspects a curse. And over in Zhenjiang, a village factory girl (Angelababy) orders her perspiring admirer (Jing Boran) to stand in the midday sun for 100 days to seal the deal for her love.
Despite its sizzling, sun-drenched scenes, Hot Summer Days actually burst into mainland China theatres earlier this year in time for the busy Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day slots, smartly capitalizing on both dates coinciding. Star power helped plenty in pulling in the crowds, and key leads put in fresh and lively showings. Jacky Cheung and René Liu make a winning couple, even if they seldom appear in the same frame, and Nicholas Tse draws on the quirky body language that made his earlier Bodyguards And Assassins role so charming. Taiwan’s Barbie Hsu undergoes a complete image makeover (and performs in Cantonese to boot) as a wild child with a sensitive side, and young Hong Kong model Angelababy is a standout as the Zhenjiang factory girl. Just as photogenic, Daniel Wu, Vivian Hsu and the Beijing contingent offer more restrained performances, and cameos also push up the glamour quotient.
Hot Summer Days marks 20th Century Fox’s first foray into backing Chinese-language cinema, and the picture is every bit as good-looking as the Hollywood pedigree might suggest. Co-helmers Tony Chan and Wing Shya deliver assured and imaginative direction that belies their brief filmographies. Australian director of photography Sion Michel’s cinematography is lush and eye-catching, and top Hong Kong editor Wenders Li propels the many romances forward with a catchy energy. Latin music carries tropical themes and even animation gets screen time, from fish-tank courtship to citywide CGI effects. The tone of the stories is sometimes uneven, and characters can only be developed so far in the speedy running time, but such flaws are easy enough to excuse given the picture as a whole: this is breezy, commercial filmmaking that pushes persistence, goodwill and hope in a purely pop package. Let’s hope Hot Summer Days’ co-directors will become a little more prolific as filmmakers in the future.