Days of Being Wild Review

Hong Kong, 1960. Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) was raised by a now-drunken ex-prostitute who reveals that she is not his real mother. Meanwhile, Yuddy vacillates between two women: Su Lizhen (Maggie Cheung) and showgirl Mimi (Carina Lau). Frustrated by Yuddy’s lack of commitment, Lizhen meets Tide (Andy Lau), a cop turned sailor, while Yuddy’s friend Zeb (Jackie Cheung) falls for Mimi.

Days of Being Wild was Wong Kar-Wai’s second feature (after As Tears Go By). It was the first to be photographed by Christopher Doyle, who, with production and costume designer William Chang – who had worked on the earlier film – became a principal creative partner in Wong’s later work. Days of Being Wild is the film where Wong’s distinctive filmmaking style first came to the fore. His films can be an acquired taste, being more influenced by Western arthouse than his fellow Hong Kong directors. In this film set in the early 1960s, Jean-Luc Godard’s films of that time are a key influence, both in style (jump cuts, natural lighting) and in an emphasis on mood rather than plot. This is an evocation of a time, those “days of being wild” of one’s twenties before other responsibilities set in. The story, such as it is, is fragmented, oblique and in places obscure (though not as incomprehensible as 1994’s Ashes of Time). The emphasis is more on the character’s emotional states, and on capturing significant moments (sometimes romantic, sometimes violent), and such mundane details as where and how the characters got there is elided or allowed to be inferred. This film makes a loose trilogy with In the Mood for Love and 2046. The lead actor of those films, Tony Leung, makes a brief appearance at the very end of this film.

I’ll go on record as to say that early Wong Kar-Wai is a taste I’ve yet to acquire. This may be a film that needs more viewings (two so far, for me) before it can do its work on you. I will add that to me In the Mood for Love is close to a masterpiece, and may indeed be one as I revisit it in the future. This film is certainly of interest as the one in which Wong found his style, and as a predecessor to his breakthrough film, Chungking Express. Others may wonder what the fuss is about: this is probably not the best Wong for beginners.

This all-regions DVD from Mega Star, as part of their Golden Collection, is billed as “digitally remastered”. Not having anything to compare it to, I can only speak as I find. Christopher Doyle is a largely self-taught DP who gained his fame by throwing out the rulebook, and many scenes are shot in conditions other DPs might have demurred at. Quite a few scenes are darkly lit, and others have a greenish tinge presumably due to shooting in fluorescent light. Other scenes, however, are more naturalistically lit. Given the low light levels and, I suspect, forced film development, there’s quite a lot of grain in the images, but this is almost certainly intentional. The transfer is anamorphic in the ratio of 1.78:1 and seems correctly framed.

Days of Being Wild was made before digital cinema soundtracks became widespread. No sound process is indicated in the end credits, but according to the IMDB the film was released with a Dolby Stereo soundtrack. In this edition it has been remixed into 5.1, in a choice of Dolby Digital and DTS flavours. The DTS track wins out for clarity (and volume), but there isn’t much in it. Both use the surrounds rather aggressively for ambience and there’s an occasionally showy use of directional sound. In one scene, Yuddy exits screen right and you here him leave the room and shut the door behind him in your right-surround speaker. Incidentally, Days of Being Wild is presented here in its original synch-sound track: mostly in Cantonese, with short bits in Tagalog, Tamil, Mandarin, Filipino and English. It should be noted that the UK release from Tartan (reviewed by Anthony Nield – follow the link at the bottom of this review) has a 2.0 soundtrack dubbed into Mandarin.

The English subtitles are very readable, though there are quite a few idiomatic slips, indicating that a non-native speaker wrote them. They aren’t so bad as to be funny, though. There are a range of subtitles in Far-Eastern languages, and twenty chapter stops. The only extra is a set of five double-sided colour postcards showing stills from the film.

As I say above, this is probably not the best place for Wong Kar-Wai novices to start. Established fans will certainly be interested, particularly as it contains the original soundtrack and has 5.1 sound.

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