Days of Being Wild Review
Days of Being Wild marked a giant leap forward for writer-director Wong Kar Wai. His previous feature, directorial debut As Tears Go By impressed only in small doses; this offering however will forever rank as one of his finest works. A likely factor in this is perhaps the decision to move away from his first feature. Whereas that effort was characterised by its genre stylings and frenetic pace, Days of Being Wild is a reflective, more meditative piece and much less easy to pin down. Furthermore, the film leaves behind the hectic Mongkok of 1988 and instead takes place in Hong Kong and the Philippines during 1960.
This is no mere exercise in shallow nostalgic comfort, however, although the setting very much dictates the style. Without drawing attention to itself (as this is, much like As Tears Go By, still very much a small-scale picture) the period detail is present and correct, but more important is the manner in which Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle (this being their first collaboration) approximate the filmmaking styles of the era. Whereas As Tears Go By was greatly influenced by the cinéma du look, Days of Being Wild picks up on another style-heavy French mode, the nouvelle vague, specifically the films Jean-Luc Godard made with regular director of photography Raoul Coutard. The camera is hand-held, jump cuts abound, but all to a far gentler pace than that of Chungking Express or Fallen Angels (with which Wong and Doyle would update the tricks to nineties urban locales). Indeed, as with many of Godard’s pre-’68 efforts, it is not the narrative which stays with you so much as individual characters and scenes, whether they involve two people sat in almost complete silence or a couple of impromptu dance moves.
This elusiveness is undoubtedly appealing, however. The plotting, if it can be described as such, follows a handful of characters who in some shape or form cross paths with central figure Leslie Cheung. Ex-girlfriend Maggie Cheung still haunts his apartment block to the annoyance of current paramour Carina Lau (though of course it’s never going to last), whilst best friend Jacky Cheung and policeman-cum-sailor Andy Lau occupy the edges of the frame. Each is seemingly governed by either solipsism or depression (or some point in between), preventing anything from happing too suddenly or dramatically, as well as being perfectly in synch with Wong’s light, effusive mood. At seemingly regular points events are set in motion that could result in a turn towards more conventional material - a potential road trip to discover Leslie Cheung’s birth mother; Maggie Cheung being given a phone number that she can only ring at an awkward hour to reach Andy Lau (just imagine the Hollywood remake and shudder) - but are thankfully shot down, with one notable exception, before they can do any harm.
For Days of Being Wild is not a film about big scenes but rather the tiny moments. The setting itself, when looked back on from 30 years (as it was at the time of the film’s production), seems oddly remote and lacking in urgency, whilst principle aim appears to be to capture, as the title puts it, those days of being wild, that elusive period between the twenties and some kind of responsibility which, once lost, disappears forever. As we meet them, most of the characters are seemingly without jobs, whilst their favourite pass time appears to be lying down, or at the very least slouching. Yet it’s also readily apparent that these days are coming to an end, and not simply through their actions, but also through the mood which Wong and Doyle have so painstakingly created; one which seemingly cannot, and indeed does not, last. Interestingly, Days of Being Wild was conceived as the first part of a projected diptych, the second of which would be set six years later. As way of a bridge, Wong concludes this film with a brief cameo from Tony Leung (as a character apparently destined to figure largely in the second feature). Part two never did materialise - though elements are said to have made their way into Ashes of Time, Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love - yet rather than coming across as making little sense or proving too enigmatic, this tiny scene is strangely fitting. For the Leung character is evidently suaver, perhaps older and undoubtedly in possession of a lot more money that any of the participants in the previous 90 minutes of screen time, sign enough that the eponymous days are indeed over.
The second of Tartan’s Wong Kar Wai collection, Days of Being Wild suffers from the same problems as As Tears Go By. The print itself is generally fine, if not better than that of the other release, especially as the softer lighting makes any flaws less visible. That said, there is, as before, evidence of scratching plus a lack of definition in the blacks. For the most part this doesn’t pose any problems, though the final scenes, set on a darkened train, are barely discernible.
As with As Tears Go By, however, the problem is not so much the picture as the sound. Again, instead of providing the original Cantonese (with a little Mandarin and some Shanghainese) soundtrack, Tartan are releasing this disc with a Mandarin dub. Admittedly the track is clean and clear throughout, but still doesn’t excuse the fact that it is wrong. As I noted in my As Tears Go By review, it would appear that the situation could have been rectified, but instead the discs have gone ahead in order to cash in on the cinema release of 2046.
To further muddy the waters, this disc also contains no extras beyond a collection of trailers for other Tartan cinema/DVD releases.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 10:27:01