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In the Heat of the Sun (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on January 6, 2013

Ma Xiaojun (Xia Yu) reflects on his adolescent years against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution.  Although a time of great upheaval and political persecution in Chinese society, Xiaojun looks back through rose-colored glasses.  With many adults — including his father — sent away to far-flung provinces, it seems a time of unlimited freedom.  Xiaojun, known to his pals as “Monkey”, takes up lock-picking as a hobby.  He breaks into random apartments and rummages through their stuff… never taking anything, just satisfying his youthful curiosity.  In one, he comes across a photograph of the beautiful Mi Lan (Ning Jing) and falls in love.  When he meets her, however, life doesn’t live up to his fantasies.

Jiang Wen’s first directorial effort is an exhilarating coming-of-age story, and one that frequently calls its own honesty into question.  Narrating as an adult, Xiaojun (Jiang himself) often notes that things may not be as he remembers them.  Even within the story, his memories are the subject of doubt.  He recalls that she was wearing a swimsuit in the photograph, but she points out to him that she wasn’t.  Which memory is false and which is real?  Did this scene even happen?  Later, he’s not even sure when he met her, or if he might not be splitting her into two different characters.  It’s not a riddle to be solved, not an oblique puzzle like Last Year at Marienbad.  But it does have fun with the concept of memory, challenging our own nostalgic reflections.

Even without this formal playfulness, it’s a superb coming-of-age tale.  Xia, besides looking like a dead ringer for a young Jiang, gives a wonderful performance, capturing both the joy and the awkwardness of adolescence.  His misguided attempts to impress Mi Lan are heartbreaking, but also charming in their relatability.  I wince to recall my own teenage fumbles, my efforts to assert myself as an individual worth knowing, efforts that fell completely flat.

The cinematography is remarkably self-assured, with a camera as free and fluid as Xiaojun feels.  Hazy glows and extreme angles, the film is a delight to behold.  I hoped that the massive success of Let the Bullets Fly would spark some interest in Jiang’s previous work.  Alas, it has not yet come to pass and this marvelous, beautiful, entertaining and insightful film remains unreleased on DVD, much less Blu-Ray.  It deserves more attention.  Rating: Great (93)


One Response to “In the Heat of the Sun (rewatch)”

  1. […] 99. In the Heat of the Sun (1994, Wen Jiang) […]

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