I'm a little curious as to why this film failed to muscle its way to the screens last weekend instead, given it's the public holidays and Valentine's day as well, surrendering its opportune release to a week later. After all, Hot Summer Days also boasts a star studded cast and following the trend of an ensemble movie made up of little stories threaded together under a common theme, with comedy, drama and romance all rolled into one.
Filmed in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shenzhen, assisted at times with some CG to spruce up the environment and landscape, this film is quirky from the start, with animation applied liberally to tell of a period of an extreme heat wave in the summer season across the Chinese territory, resulting in every cast member being bathed in an oily, sticking film clinging onto their skin. It makes you a little uncomfortable as well, since the first thing that crosses your mind is that everyone here needs a quick shower to cool off. And while romance is equated with passion, rising temperatures also translates to impulsiveness, and anger.
As with all ensemble movies, the stories here are varied with an eye-candy cast to bring about the bittersweet experiences of love, where you have a chauffer-coolie (Jackie Cheung) romancing a pianist-masseur (Rene Liu) over SMS, a proud sushi chef (Daniel Wu with moustache and nary a smile) spurning the love of a writer (Vivian Hsu, does she ever age?), an air conditioning technician (Nicholas Tse) intrigued by a tomboyish biker chick (Barbie Hsu with an extremely chic hairdo, and plenty of eyeliner), a country bumpkin (Fu Xinbo) having to prove his sincerity to a teddy bear factory worker (Angelababy, she's everywhere!) by standing as ordered under the hot sun at noon for 100 days, and an arrogant photographer (Duan Yihong) and his assistant trying to track down a model who had supposedly cursed the former to blindness. Then there's Gordon Liu playing a salesman prying for opportunities on a beach, and other mini subplots which expands the theme of love to more than being a romantic one, which covers almost an entire spectrum from first love to unrequited ones and those who got away, to encompassing that between friends and parent and child.
Part of the fun in the film is the numerous cameos who appear as one-off characters just because, so look out for the likes of Calvin Choy (of the Grasshoppers fame) playing a larger than life version of himself, Shawn Yue as a tattoo artist, Charlene Choi (one half of the twins) outbidding a kid for ice cream, and the largest cameo of all (credited as Miss Cheung) is Maggie, as a lovelorn mysterious woman hanging out at Daniel Wu's sushi bar. They're like the spice to ensure that there will be something or someone to look out for with every turn of the camera to some place else.
There were two elements here which brought back memories of local films. The first being having the sweltering heat play up in the background, and everyone here can jolly well associate ourselves with the feeling of extreme warmth, captured in a segment of the short Heave. Also, a scene involving a kid buying up her parent's time might come close to that seen in Jack Neo's I Not Stupid Too. We could all say that they are coincidences, and it is exactly these coincidences and serendipitous moments that pepper how the characters come together, from a number dialled incorrectly, to chance encounters on a puddled street.
And there's something contemporary in the way the characters here are crafted, as most of the stories have the females making what was essentially the first move, be it out of boredom, or that they really do know which buttons to press in order to make the guys fall head over heels, or they're basically go-getters like Vivan Hsu's Wasabi in never feeling shy in letting her feelings be known. Similar to Valentine's Day, I felt again that there was plenty of negativity in having the couples experience plenty of bitterness in their relationships, probably to remind that there's no such thing as a smooth-sailing romance, with its regular ups and downs, and the occasional pain to go along. And like contemporary films, you just can't get away from a twist no matter how small, in its finale, which wrapped up one of the story threads in a rather clumsy manner.
The Cantonese language makes itself heard again, with Jackie Cheung's part being mostly in the language, probably because the charm of that storyline relied on the little language nuances that get deliberately made when his character switches from Cantonese to Mandarin, and I would have shuddered to think how such charm would be lost if given the dubbed version. Nic Tse is still dubbed over, but like I said, we're making small inroads to being less anal about dubbing Hong Kong characters as a regulation. My hope still stands that one day we will do away with dubbed versions of movies, which in today's context will be meaningless given Pan-Chinese efforts in collaborative filmmaking.
If you dig Valentine's Day, then perhaps you may just want to follow that up with Hot Summers Day with your loved one, since love is probably still around us all, and with the Chinese Valentine's equivalent coming up in about a week's time.