Days of Being Wild (1991)

D: Wong Kar-Wai
S: Leslie Cheung, Carina Lau, Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau

Jean-Luc Godard goes to Hong Kong in this interesting art house drama which toured the festival circuit to great acclaim. Intersecting stories of parallel lives primarily focusing on the adventures of loveless Leslie Cheung. He first embarks on a relationship with quiet ticket-booth operator Maggie Cheung, then takes up with dancer Carina Lau, finally abandoning both of them to go in search of his real mother in The Philippines in the early 1960s. Those whose lives he touches also proceed to a variety of encounters with other humans hovering in the same void of unrequited passion and a search for identity or its definitive absence.

Stylishly directed in the manner of a 1960s Godard (if lacking the political anger), the film manages to sustain its atmosphere for the hour and a half or so that it lasts. Wong makes efficient use of the camera when stationary and when in motion, and usually lingers on the faces of his capable cast for long periods. Though the decor is uniformly squalid and unrelentingly depressing, the lighting is particularly effective, casting unusual shadows and splashes of colour across the urban landscape. More in the manner of a poet than a storyteller, Wong holds the film together to its inevitable climax.

This film is virtually plotless in the sense of a narrative which steadily drives towards an identifiable goal. It is concerned not with the resolution of conflict or even of ideas, but with an exploration of the conflicting patterns of need in dissatisfied human beings. This either works for you as a viewer or not, but Wong at least keeps it stylish enough to make it worthwhile. It certainly makes an interesting counterpoint to the more heavily hyped and actionful exports of late capitalist Hong Kong, but just as they are informed by an American classical model, so is Days of Being Wild a product of post-war European art house and it is arguable to what level a cinema such as this constitutes an independent voice for its indigenous audience. Worth a look nonetheless.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.