Days of Being Wild
Wong Kar Wai’s breakthrough sophomore feature represents the first full flowering of his swooning signature style. The first film in a loosely connected, ongoing cycle that includes In the Mood for Love and 2046, this ravishing existential reverie is a dreamlike drift through the Hong Kong of the 1960s in which a band of wayward twenty-somethings—including a disaffected playboy (Leslie Cheung) searching for his birth mother, a lovelorn woman (Maggie Cheung) hopelessly enamored with him, and a policeman (Andy Lau) caught in the middle of their turbulent relationship—pull together and push apart in a cycle of frustrated desire. The director’s inaugural collaboration with both cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who lends the film its gorgeously gauzy, hallucinatory texture, and actor Tony Leung, who appears briefly in a tantalizing teaser for a never-realized sequel, Days of Being Wild is an exhilarating first expression of Wong’s trademark themes of time, longing, dislocation, and the restless search for human connection.
Days Of Being Wild (1990) film notes by Tova Gannana for Far Away Entertainment
Days Of Being Wild (1990) set in 1960 feels like the isolation of 2020. The characters are travelers, workers. One is a dancer, another a cop. They are young and fall in love at first sight, careless but not mean. They begin as strangers, running into one another in hallways, doorways and on empty streets. Their hair is long, their faces smooth. With little life experience, they weigh their futures based on their past, their parents' names still on their tongues. In fights, they get physical. They care about their reputations until they lose themselves and their self control.
Wearing a beaded two piece outfit, Mimi (Carina Lau) dances in a club. She goes home with Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) after he offers her a pearl earring. Yuddy wasn’t there to see Mimi. He came to beat up a man who had stolen the earrings from Yuddy’s adoptive mother Rebecca (Rebecca Pan).
Everything in Days Of Being Wild happens by chance.
Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) barely lifts her head when she listens or talks. Her long bangs cover most of her face. She takes tickets at a stadium whose fans we never see. The stadium is littered in coke bottles that she picks up after the games. She lives with a cousin who is moving out to get married. Li-zhen wants to move in with Yuddy. She wants to introduce Yuddy to her father. Yuddy is most at home when he is by himself. He dances the cha cha alone to the radio. When he hears someone say something he doesn’t like he combs his hair back, his aloofness a gesture. He wants to find his birth mother. In his past he has traveled. Yuddy lives with Rebecca in Hong Kong. She goes out with younger men. Rebecca will leave for America with an older man. Yuddy will inherit her house. But her house is not his house, her life not his life. He was dropped in, she picked him up, he was given away, she took him where she went. Rebecca won’t give Yuddy his mother’s name. Yuddy can’t forget that he doesn't know from where he came.
Yuddy is more Lauren Bacall than Humphrey Bogart. He looks at women to see how they will look at him. Days Of Being Wild is a night film because the story is haunted by absence. Li-zhen is in love with Yuddy; his lack of love for her becomes a weighted depression. She can’t speak to her family about her feelings so she walks the streets around his house while he sleeps or is in his apartment with the dancer Mimi.
Tide (Andy Lau), a policeman with the night beat, is never seen arresting or ticketing. No one is out or around. Tide is like Li-zhen in her empty stadium. Tide sees her outside of Yuddy’s place. They start a conversation and walk in thoughtful silence. Tide lends Li-zhen money for cab fare home to Macau. To pay him back she’ll see him again. Tide is a policeman but dreams to be a sailor. One imagines the sea he will sail on will be as empty of people as the streets he details.
Nothing is explained in Days Of Being Wild. Everything is interpretation. Rebbecca is last seen looking over her shoulder at Yuddy. America is a place from which you don’t come back. Yuddy leaves the house Rebecca has left for him. His birth mother is in the Philippines. Mimi and Li-zhen in Hong Kong think of Yuddy. He left them no letters.
Yuddy finds the woman he has been looking for and is turned away a second time. Yuddy narrates, “On April 12th, 1961 I finally arrived at my mother’s house. But she didn’t want to see me. The maids told me she no longer lived there. As I was leaving, I could feel a pair of eyes watching me from behind, but I was determined not to turn around. I just wanted to find out what she looked like. Since she wouldn’t give me that chance, I wouldn’t give it to her either.” He walks the gravel road lined with trees. There is blue left over in the sky, blue stripes in Yuddy’s shirt, green in the palm leaves that wave in the wind. This was not the meeting that Yuddy in his mind had rehearsed. It is not our days that are wild or untidy but time.
Tova Gannana is a film curator and critic.