Hot Summer Days -- Film Review

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A surprisingly tone-deaf romantic comedy, "Hot Summer Days" impresses mostly by its lack of genuinely original humor. Although a top box office earner in China earlier this year, Fox International Productions' first Chinese-language film is unlikely to acquire adherents stateside beyond Chinese-language speakers in major metros and perhaps a somewhat broader audience among the more adventurous on DVD or cable.

Over several weeks of what's set up as the hottest summer on record in Hong Kong and southern China, a series of love stories plays out with varied results. An emotionally withholding sushi chef (international star Daniel Wu) resists the entreaties of his former lover (Vivian Hsu) to rekindle their relationship, until she decides that perhaps her absence may make his heart grow fonder.

Ah Wai (musician Nicholas Tse), an air-conditioner repairman, finds his popularity skyrocketing during the heat wave, but can't seem to get the attention of a mysterious girl (Barbie Hsu) who rides a motorcycle, until a late-night street race piques her interest. If he's willing to accept her secret life, perhaps he'll win her over.

Across town, a driver (pop star Jacky Cheung) for a celebrity hip hop performer, overcome by heat exhaustion, ends up in the hospital, where he mistakenly sends an errant text message received by an unemployed pianist (Rene Liu) working as a foot masseuse. The two carry on a flirtatious cyber-romance by adopting fictional identities, even as their feelings for one another grow increasingly authentic.

Meanwhile in mainland China, a young shopworker (Jing Boran) falls for a local factory girl (Wing Yeung), who tells him he must stand in the hot summer sun for 100 days outside the window of her workshop to earn her affection. But his determination to win her begins to flag in the unbearable heat, even though his apparent loyalty engages her sympathy.

In Beijing, a famous photographer (Duan Yihong), who loses his sight after firing a vindictive young female model from a fashion shoot, must rely on the kindness and compassion of his assistant (Fu Xinbo) in their quest to find the girl that the younger man has fallen in love with and lift her suspected curse.

Throughout the movie, the starry ensemble cast struggles with a cookie-cutter script weighed down by coincidence and cliches that leaves little opportunity for inspired interpretation. Co-directors Wing Shya and Tony Chan (one of two screenwriters) seem to have lifted nearly every familiar shot from the romcom playbook, substituting imitation for originality and sentimentality for comedy. Aside from the unusual weather, "Hot Summer Days" generates too little heat to spark much fervor.

Opened: Friday, Oct. 1 in New York (20th Century-Fox Entertainment)
Production: Fox International Productions, Star Television Asia, Huayi Brothers Media Corp.
Cast: Jacky Cheung, Daniel Wu, Nicholas Tse, Vivian Hsu, Rene Liu, Barbie Hsu, Duan Yihong, Fu Xinbo, Jing Boran, Wing Yeung
Director: Wing Shya, Tony Chan
Screenwriters: Tony Chan, Lucretia Ho
Producers: Fruit Chan, Paul Cheng
Director of photography: Sion Michl
Production designer: Sean Kunjambu
Music: Eddie Chung, Eugene Pao
Editor: Wenders Li
Rated PG, 93 minutes
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