In the Heat of Summer

Reviewed by YTSL

In 1994, the very prolific -- 32 scriptwriting credits between 1989 and 2001 (including for “A Moment of Romance”, “Always On My Mind”, “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man”, “The Wedding Days” and “Clean My Name, Mr. Coroner!”) and a few directing ones too -- James Yuen and director Teddy Chan (who has gone on to helm “Downtown Torpedoes”, “Purple Storm” and “The Accidental Spy”) collaborated on two movies that had Jordan and Moses Chan in their cast.  Whereas “Twenty Something” has got a reputation (for being the rare U.F.O. drama given a Category III rating, if nothing else), this crime drama -- whose set of stories shows members of the police force as all too human individuals who lead rather ordinary lives in between being called upon to risk their lives in the line of duty -- is one that seems to have been too low-key to have made much of an impact.

IN THE HEAT OF SUMMER also is one of those films that doesn’t exactly start off with a bang.  In fact, I think it’s been a while since I saw an introductory sequence that was as bemusing and ineffective -- not just mediocre -- as this one which involves a car full of casual acting fellows, with monikers like “Monk” and “Daddy” as well as Tak and Kong, who do not get immediately revealed to be plain-clothes policemen.  In all honesty though, I do think that this offering does improve as it goes along.  Indeed, starting from when the four unassuming looking detectives (who come in the forms of Jordan Chan, Chan Kwok Bong, Marco Ngai and Joe Cheung) actually spring into action, but especially after the entrance of a rookie detective named Sam Hui (who is played by Moses Chan) into the picture, one is presented with better clues re why it is that Paul Fonoroff was moved to describe it as “one of the best cops-and-robber movies in recent years” and “all in all an admirable effort” (See his “At the Movies”, 1998:445).

Nonetheless, despite IN THE HEAT OF SUMMER having not one but three action directors (who include Chin Kar Lok and Bruce Law), its action sequences aren’t really as spectacular as one might expect of a work whose protagonists find themselves having to deal with a disgruntled army sergeant turned bomb terrorist (portrayed by Jack Kao) as well as a murderous gang of jewelry store thieves (headed by Michael Lam).  Alternatively, when it is realized that significant time is devoted to showing that “Everyone has his problem” and precisely what problem each one of the younger detectives in Sergeant Yiu Kin Kong’s team is saddled with, it ought to be apparent than this effort is more of an action-oriented drama than an actioner with unusual dramatic depth.

To a certain degree, I do think that the Chinese title effectively translates into English as “Young Police Detectives” deserves some credit for its attempt to be more character than action driven.  However, my feeling is that the wrong characters were picked to be the film’s main ones.  More specifically, Jordan Chan’s Monk -- so nicknamed because of his choice of close shaven hair style -- is the kind of mouthy character with the heart of gold that may have been interesting in as of itself but has become too familiar a fixture of Hong Kong movies to intrigue me all that much when encountered in IN THE HEAT OF SUMMER while Marco Ngai’s Tak -- who is a gambling addict who is heavily in debt -- was -- at least initially -- too prickly in his interactions with his colleagues and clumsy with his attempts to show affection for his hostess girlfriend to come across all that well.

The banal plus stock nature of these two characters is particularly obvious when juxtaposed with that of Chan Kwok Bong’s “Daddy”:  Another twenty-something year old policeman, but one who is a single parent to a troubled son who ultimately only yearns to be loved by his father.  IN THE HEAT OF SUMMER’s standout character though is Jack Kao’s (ex-)army sergeant Chan Wei Cheng.  It is an uncommon crime film that takes pains to show, as this one does, that its main villain was much less of an unfeeling monster of a mad bomber than an angry man whose buttons got pushed because he was a loyal friend, loving father and the sort of husband who takes to heart a lecture delivered by his wife (who’s played by Christine Ng).  If only this police drama’s crime-fighting heroes had been as sympathetically plus complexly rendered.  In large part because they weren’t, I find myself in the unusual position of being unwilling to bestow as much praise on a contemporary Hong Kong production as the infamously hypercritical Mr. Fonoroff!

My rating for this film:  6.5