×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

In the Heat of the Sun

(Mandarin Chinese dialogue)

With:
Ma Xiaojun (Monkey) ... Xia Yu Mi Lan ... Ning Jing Liu Yiku ... Geng Le Liu Sitian ... Shang Nan Yu Beipei ... Tao Hong

(Mandarin Chinese dialogue)

Mainland Chinese star Jiang Wen (“Red Sorghum,””Hibiscus Town”) makes an engaging directing bow with “In the Heat of the Sun,” a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age pic set in Cultural Revolution China whose only major fault is its fulsome running time. Full of well-observed characters, and actorly to a degree, “Sun” could cast a modest shadow over arty wickets with half an hour sheared.

Movie is based on a 1991 novella by well-known bad-boy writer Wang Shuo, though Jiang’s script is more of a free interpretation, changing some 70% of the original and mixing in a mass of personal memories. (Even the central character/narrator’s nickname, “Monkey,” was Jiang’s own teenage moniker.) It’s not Jiang’s first shot at scripting: He previously worked uncredited on some pix in which he starred –“Red Sorghum,””Li Lianying, the Imperial Eunuch” and “Black Snow.”

Popular on Variety

Characters are intro’d in 1969, as the boys’ military fathers are shipped out in a troop plane to spread Chairman Mao’s doctrine. Cut to the early ’70s, and a hot summer in Peking: The bunch are in their mid-teens, living in a military compound with time on their hands for skipping school, getting into brawls and eyeing girls.

Leader is the assured Liu Yiku (Geng Le), who seems to be sleeping with the devil-may-care Yu Beipei (Tao Hong). The younger Monkey Ma (Xia Yu) also gets the come-on from her, but is obsessed with an older girl, Mi Lan (Ning Jing).

Pic’s main problem is that its episodic structure, which essentially boils down to a last-summer, rite-of-passage movie, is too fragile to go two-hours plus. (Initial cut was 220 minutes, enough for a miniseries, which remains an option, according to producers.) Jiang consciously avoids the cliches of Cultural Revolution-set movies, with virtually none of the usual Maoist book-waving and demos, but he doesn’t come up with a strong enough central narrative on which to hang the series of vignettes.

Though the pic has a hazy feel, as if this is how Ma remembers things rather than how they actually happened, a Brechtian device in which the action freezes while the narrator clears his mind comes too late for proper assimilation.

Still, there’s a freshness to the characters (especially the two independent-minded girls), and sexual frankness (a shower scene with the boys, a brief topless shot of actress Ning), that tread new ground for a Mainland China-shot movie. Scenes of rival-gang hooliganism, plus a bold sequence of cadres privately viewing a Western t&a movie, are also eye-opening in the same context.

As in many actor-helmed items, thesps are given plenty of rein, sometimes at the expense of overall pacing and structure. But on an individual level, perfs are fine and casting top-drawer. As Monkey Ma, 17-year-old high school student Xia has both an uncanny resemblance to Jiang himself and a likable combination of insolence and innocence.

Standout perf comes from Ning (the striking lead in “Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker”), enigmatic as the object of Ma’s infatuation. Newcomer Tao etches memorable support as the free-thinking tease Yu. Well-known Siqin Gaowa pops up in two scenes as Ma’s mom.

Ace lenser Gu Changwei (“Judou,””Farewell My Concubine”) bathes the pic in a gorgeous late-afternoon, summery glow, with play of light and shadow. (Chinese title literally means “Days of Brilliant Sunlight.”) Romantic scoring, based on a well-known theme from Italo opera “Cavalleria Rusticana,” may send mixed signals to Western auds, though the director says music of this kind was an essential component of his youth.

End crawl bears a special thanks to Volker Schloendorff, boss of Germany’s Babelsberg Studios, where final mixing was done. Most of the $ 2 million budget on the three-way Chinese co-production was raised from Hong Kong.

In the Heat of the Sun

(HONG KONG-TAIWANESE-CHINESE)

Production: A King's Video (Taiwan)/Star City Film & TV Development (China) presentation of a Dragon Film Intl. (Hong Kong) production, in association with China Film Co-production Corp. (International sales: Golden Harvest, H.K.) Produced by Ki Po, Hsu An-chin, Guo Youliang. Executive producers, Manfred Wong, Liu Xiaoqing. Directed, written by Jiang Wen, from the novella "Dongwu Xiongmeng" ("Wild Beasts") by Wang Shuo.

Crew: Camera (color), Gu Changwei; editor, Zhou Ying; music, Guo Wenjing; art direction, Chen Haozhong; costume design, Liu Huiping; sound (Dolby), Gu Changning, Manfred Arbter; associate producers, Fan Chien-kung, Tsang Hing-sun, Zhao Jingwei; assistant directors, Zhang Hua, Ma Wenzhong. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 9, 1994. Running time: 139 MIN.

With: Ma Xiaojun (Monkey) ... Xia Yu Mi Lan ... Ning Jing Liu Yiku ... Geng Le Liu Sitian ... Shang Nan Yu Beipei ... Tao HongWith: Dai Xiaopo, Wang Hai, Siqin Gaowa, Wang Xueqin, Fang Xiaogang, Wang Shuo.

More Film

  • 'Surge' Review: Ben Whishaw Wigs Out

    'Surge': Film Review

    There’s mannered, there’s manic, and then there’s the malfunctioning pinball-machine delirium that Ben Whishaw brings to “Surge”: a blinking, buzzing, flashing clatter of hyper-accelerated impulses, chicken-fried synapses and staggered hypnic jerks that never culminate in sleep. You wouldn’t expect stillness from a film called “Surge,” and in that respect only does Whishaw zig where you [...]

  • SF Studios Joins Forces With REinvent

    Scandi Powerhouse SF Studios Teams With Rikke Ennis's REinvent For Int'l Sales (EXCLUSIVE)

    SF Studios, the Scandinavian production and distribution powerhouse, has struck an exclusive partnership with REinvent Studios, the banner launched by TrustNordisk’s former CEO Rikke Ennis. As part of the deal, REinvent will handle international sales for all SF Studios content, including films, TV series and catalogue titles. This new deal expands the existing relationship between [...]

  • VFX Studio Framestore Launches Suite of

    VFX, Animation Studio Framestore Launches Pre-Production Services Unit (EXCLUSIVE)

    Visual effects and animation studio Framestore, which won Oscars for “The Golden Compass,” “Gravity” and “Blade Runner 2049,” and whose recent work includes “Avengers: Endgame” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home” in movies, and “His Dark Materials” and “Watchmen” in TV, has launched FPS, which offers a suite of pre-production services. The move sees the company’s [...]

  • Tesla

    'Tesla': Film Review

    Inventor Nikolai Tesla is more popular today than when he died penniless in a New York hotel in 1943. Back then, he was the futurist who swore he could summon unlimited, clean, wireless electromagnetic energy from the earth — a neat idea, but surely coal and oil were fine. In the 21st century, as temperatures [...]

  • Amulet

    'Amulet': Film Review

    Actress Romola Garai makes a distinctive feature directorial debut with “Amulet,” even if this upscale horror drama is ultimately more impressive in the realm of style than substance. It’s some style, though: She hasn’t just created a stylish potboiler, but a densely textured piece that makes for a truly arresting viewing experience to a point. [...]

  • Alison Brie appears in Horse Girl

    'Horse Girl': Film Review

    A funny thing happens about a third of the way into “Horse Girl,” Jeff Baena’s fourth Sundance feature after “Life After Beth,” “Joshy” and “The Little Hours.” Or rather, a funny thing stops happening: the familiar, steady-heartbeat rhythms of the low-budget social awkwardness comedy become erratic, tachycardiac, as the initially endearing foibles of the film’s [...]

  • Save Yourselves!

    'Save Yourselves!': Film Review

    Brooklyn couple Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Reynolds) have several plans to salvage their lives. Go vegetarian, plant a garden, make sourdough bread, and above all, quit the internet addiction that’s become their relationship’s third wheel, distracting them from make-outs and barging into their fights until Su yells, “Alexa stop!” To detox, the couple [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content