In the Heat of the Sun (1994): A Nostalgic Wet Dream

Rarely has another teenage romance film painted adolescence with so much nostalgia and poignancy.

By Cheng Guo


 

Being one of the best films ever made in the Chinese motion picture history and my second favourite film of all time, In the Heat of the Sun is anything but a conventional teenage romance film.

Stunning cinematography, incredible acting (lead Xia Yu was the youngest actor ever to win a Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival), and masterful mise-en-scene aside, my favourite quality about this film is probably its tone and unique point of view on a teenagers’ life. Unlike most teenage romance films nowadays, In the Heat of the Sun doesn’t portray the idea of young love to be pure and innocent. Instead, it is immature, confused, impulsive, and animalistic. It’s a raw energy that often leads to lots of regret and unforgettable memories at the same time. And this film is showing us the tragic beauty of that.

 

The title is a perfect metaphor for the external environment and internal mental state the protagonist Ma Xiaojun is in. The “heat of the sun” can be referring to the background of Cultural Revolution, but more importantly, the restlessness of a group of teenagers going through puberty.

This coming-of-age story has a magical quality where the plot and characters seem to run on photosynthesis under the sun. Almost like the summer heat has amplified everyone’s inner desire, giving them too much energy and nowhere to release. Although many critics have related the character motivations with the social background, I feel that it’s only true to a small extent, as this adolescent story has a universal theme and atmosphere that anyone can relate to.

 

Inspiration

Loosely based on famous author Wang Shuo’s novel Wild Beast, the movie is interestingly similar to Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. And that’s not a coincidence — when the director Jiang Wen was young, he used to watch this film repeatedly. He watched it without Chinese subtitles and could only understand ten percent of it. But he said that the important part is to understand its mood and tone. To Jiang Wen, Raging Bull  ‘doesn’t feel like an American film, or a film about boxers. I think it’s talking about my home.’

And I think that’s a key element to understanding In the Heat of the Sun. It’s about the tragedy of a self-destructive character filled with restless anger, frustration and raging hormones. While the “tragedy” here is not as grand in scale as the one in Raging Bull and the negative emotions expressed are not as intense, one can argue that they perfectly illustrate the chaos, confusion and jealousy a teenager would experience in his adolescent years.

 

 

Narrative

Narrative-wise, In the Heat of the Sun employs a stream of consciousness approach, which goes to the point that the film would even show us “false memories” of the protagonist just to provide us a glimpse of his thoughts. This narrative structure, together with the golden colour palette cinematography, gives the film a nostalgic and dreamy tone, a quality that draws comparisons to Fellini’s works, especially his early films like I vitelloni. Both centered on mischievous kids (adults who act like kids in the case of I vitelloni) having fun and wasting their youth away, and both about the melancholy of growing up. And indeed, the ending of In the Heat of the Sun shows the grown-up version of the group of teenagers in black-and-white, displaying how dull their adults’ lives are. We’re reminded of their younger days of being wild and free, and we identify with that bittersweet moment where one has to say farewell to his/her youth.

Highly recommended to all romance film lovers, In the Heat of the Sun is a rare character study gem, not only rare in its rich romanticism, but also in its incredible truthfulness. It’s like a wet dream to be experienced through and wake up from, only to realise that it’s a similar dream to the ones that we all had.

 

Check out the trailer here: