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Days Of Being Wild
cast: Leslie Cheung, Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, and Carina Lau

writer and director: Wong Kar-wai

90 minutes (12) 1990
widescreen ratio 1.77:1
Tartan DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
It's certain that many great double acts have met under less than classic circumstances, like brooms clashing part-time at the Netto (Robson and Jerome, apparently), or one nearly backing up over the other with a dust cart (Siegfried and Roy, reputedly). We should know better than to expect a masterwork the result of every first encounter. Days Of Being Wild was the film that coupled writer-director Wong Kar-wai and cinematographer Christopher Doyle for the first time, a partnership that has since famously resulted in Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, In The Mood For Love, and 2046. Even back here in 1990 there is no questioning Doyle's natural talent for the soaking colours, pristine framing and a gentle photographic style. It is here to subdue, the cinematographer as masseur for the mind. Wong Kar-wai is certainly not without ideas at this stage, it is that he simply didn't contemplate or care whether they worked in a feature film.

Days Of Being Wild is a period film, a drama played out in the 1960s and the period detail production design and location wrangling is spot on. In this era of Craven A and candlewick bedspreads we are delivered into a scenario that is, if honest, skeletally Camus' The Outsider, geographically displaced to Hong Kong, not unlike its immigrant Filipino protagonist, Yuddy (the late Leslie Cheung). Like Camus' hero Yuddy lives a couple of floors up, an outwardly cool but inwardly fidgety personality with the quite decisive ability to separate himself from lovers and friends. They languish in the heat, but uppermost in Yuddy's mind is the answer to a question, the identity of his real mother, withheld by his drunken sot of a stepmother (Rebecca Pan). Then again, there is always the possibility that the sodden mess of a woman might be his mother after all.

He takes girlfriend after girlfriend we are led to believe, though we meet only two. First is the bar girl Su Li-zhen, an ordinarily wary but romantic thing played by Maggie Cheung. The second girl is more good time, Mimi (Carina Lau), or Leung Fung-ying, or Lulu, as in quick succession she will reintroduce herself. Yuddy determines to return to the Philippines leaving his car to his only 'friend' Zeb (Jacky Cheung). Su Li-zhen has meanwhile sought solace in a patrolman Tide (Andy Lau) on an unusually quiet late shift plod of the streets of their quarter. It is for verbal counselling only, though her beauty and honesty are enough for the young officer to fall in love with her. The words spent, she makes no further contact, and his unrequited longing becomes so great that he his driven to quit the streets she one night strolled with him and take a job at sea instead. Everything comes to an unrewarding if realistic close. People ultimately separate one way or another.

Kar-wai is a brave director. As in life the structure is unruly. Forget balance and don't expect a big show closer. It is a designer unruliness. There is a sense of games begun, perhaps imagined, and deserted. At several stages in the viewing I am triggered to return to the beginning and explore it anew with the apparent late introduction of some device or concept. Late coming, but neither kept nor necessarily intended. At one point I anticipate a La Ronde style game of tag with characters introduced as others are bade farewell. I was wrong. Also interestingly suggested is the notion of people forgetting those once before met. It's revealed to be in the pretext of a ruse, though. Mimi's habit of introducing herself under different names could also have been an interesting plot device to another director. As much as I would excite in the exploration of such ideas, Kar-wai is too honest to become wrapped up in gimmicks like that. Well, at least until Chungking Express. This points to the most important failing of the film. How is it I come to have time to mull over this unless the film has failed to hold my attention? There are too many languid passages, as magically shot as they might be. The closing scene may be deliberately innocuous but it is no good to me to suddenly realise the closing titles have begun.

Kar-wai is not entirely truthful to his vision though. At the 77th minute he throws in a knife flashing, table turning, gun-discharging 60 seconds that appear to be there as if to excuse the slow-burning norm of the film. It seems particularly unfortunate that this action scene lasts a minute in a film in which one of its more precious notions is that of the perpetuity of a minute in a romantic context. Yuddy woos Li-zhen on the notion of the worth of a minute, delineating 60 seconds that would be forever theirs. "I used to think a minute always raced by... sometimes it can last forever." There are several other wonderful lines in the film. In answer to a question the most important of his lovers, Yuddy responds, "I can't know how many more women I'll fall for in my life. I won't know which one I'll love most until I die." These great lines are upset and soiled by dialogue that comes in stupid arguments, again the deliberately silly Mimi, mouthing off insensibly, and silly musings, like the clumsy and ludicrous legless bird metaphor.

Kar-wai's films appear to be set in a vibrant now or a languid then. It does not help decide which way his new film, 2046, will fall, a jump around from the then to a future fantasy of then, though the trailer for the film, that is found on this disc, exudes great promise. Doyle continues to bring his magic to all he sets hand on and eye to. There is some confusion when a shot holds close and long on gate ironwork that is dated large in roman numerals that read 1982 accompanied by a voice over that moots an eventuality in the scene. The plot then apparently appears to continue a year later, and the fashions and the age of the protagonists would seem to confirm the original era. It's a big blunder. The soundtrack is a terrible light jazz mix, some of it recognisable as covers. On a busier film it may have been ignorable but here it rakes, scratches and marks the consciousness. It hearkens back to the worst ever film soundtrack, the Bix Beiderbecke chuck down on Ordeal By Innocence, though clearly no soundtrack could come close to that misaligned mess. The saxophone governed cover of Michelle ("my belle" it squawks) is horrible. Sax is comedy; otherwise only of any good in a Teardrop Explodes pop number.

When it comes to closing credits only the director, cinematographer and the cast members named in this review are translated. Neither is there any support information on the disc, though most of those named are of star status. I have seen varying accounts of the running time but this is a 90-minute film, no matter how much longer it may feel. No real disc extras, a selection of trailers and the opportunity to watch the film minus the subtitles. There are certainly reasons to watch Days Of Being Wild and you should rent it for them, but don't expect it not to be a painless experience in so rummaging.
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