Cynicism combined with sweet, summery romantic comedies sometimes make for some great viewing experiences. However, watching Hot Summer Days was a bit challenging, since my cynicism overpowered anything that the film could have up its sleeve as artful defense. The bullet-paced editing, the tight framing to present dialogue, the dialogue, the restless premises of the seven different romantic pairings that make up the multiple plots -- they all had me rolling and reeling with a let's-get-it-over-with-quickly exasperation.
I guess this is what happens when it's the hottest summer in Hong Kong, and tempers and love fevers flare. The world feels like it's fluttering by, but there's no wind action to ease the sweat dribbling off one's skin. That said, the film did have a charm here and there to help cool the skin. To echo the film's loose association between love and science, let's push this skin metaphor just that much further and go through the film more closely, according to skin layers:
1. Epidermis: Among other things, the epidermis is the waterproof, outer layer of our skin.
Hot Summer Days really tests the skin's waterproofness by hitting it with unbelievable amounts of sweat and tears -- even hail -- to link the multiple stories of the multiple stages of love. There's teenage love, misunderstood love, love born from conflict, and the act of remembering one's love now gone. Given the film's fundamental premise, the record-breaking Hong Kong heat, it wasn't surprising to see everyone sweat. Jacky Cheung's single father, taxi driver Wah, and René Liu's struggling pianist-turned-foot masseuse Li Yan officially meet face-to-face through an air conditioner; Angelababy's teenage factory worker Xiao Qi and Jing Boran's Xiao Fang unwittingly begin their courtship based on a bet involving standing in the sun by the factory for 100 days; Nicholas Tse is the local AC supplier who sells the AC to Wah. But how much everyone sweats is a whole different matter. Though off-putting in the beginning, the pearl-like beads of sweat dripping off brows, cheeks, arms, and necks, courtesy of massage oil and water spray, ended up becoming a supporting character to some of the love pairings and serendipitous meetings, and it sometimes superseded the actors and plot. (Look how sweat rolls and forms nice circles.)
But whose skin we're talking about is also a main issue: as Fox International Productions' first-ever (multi-)Chinese language film, it had to make a multi-tiered impact by way of an all-star cast that hails from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. With the exception of Taiwan, the narrative reflects this border-crossing through the multiple cities in which the romances/friendships take place: in northern China (Beijing), southern China (Shenzhen), or Hong Kong. After limited US theatrical runs, Hot Summer Days will also be the first Chinese language film on Fox.com.
2. Dermis: The layer between the outer epidermis and the inner hypodermis protects the body from stress and exertion.
Hot Summer Days is an altogether harmless, stress-free, but only sometimes engaging film, because of the sheer silliness of it. Most moving was the fact that the film tapped into some serious Wong Kar-wai situations and colors, which even now is hard to avoid. I'm sorry to say that Nicholas Tse on a motorbike at night using fast-motion to capture traffic city colors and light does not a Takeshi Kaneshiro 2.0 moment make. (It turns out co-director Wing Shya is the exclusive stills photographer and graphic designer for Wong Kar-wai.) Setting all cynicism aside, Hot Summer Days is a heart-warmer of a film, but it takes too long to warm up, when it finally does so, it's too late.
3. Hypodermis: Among other things, the hypodermis connects the outer layers of skin to blood, bone, and muscle.
Hot Summer Days' blood, bone, and muscle? Maggie Cheung's cameo in Daniel Wu's sushi restaurant, so wonderful to see and so love-stricken and heart-breaking that it makes everyone's love story pale in comparison and look even sillier and more forced. (With the exception of Liu and Cheung, who inject an amusing, touching sincerity to their particular story.)