Wong Kar-wai’s second feature is a sturdy foundation for his future legacy.
“If you’re tired of living, fine. But don’t drag me down with you.”
If there’s a running theme throughout the majority of the works of Hong Kong New Wave director Wong Kar-wai, it’s that of loneliness. Characters amble aimlessly through life, hoping to stumble upon answers, companionship or a simple reason to exist. Despite the time period these stories belong in, the ideas are timeless, and help keep Wong’s films relevant decades later. The same can very much be said for most of the roster of characters present in his 1990 drama Days of Being Wild.
Set in the 60s (although I don’t know why it wasn’t just set in the present day) Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) is a ladies’ man, who starts the movie flirting an eventually getting into a relationship with box-office worker Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung as heartbreakingly adorable as ever). However, his callous attitude towards her causes her depression, made all the worse when he breaks up with her after she suggests they move in together. He quickly moves on to dancer Mimi (Carina Lau), a much more bullheaded and resistant to his arrogance.
But when he dumps her, Mimi also begins to suffer mentally, though is she helped by Zeb (Jacky Cheung), Yuddy’s best friend who also likes Mimi. Meanwhile, Li-zhen finds solace in beat cop Tide (Andy Lau), who sympathises with her. They meet at the same time most days, as dictated by his route, and the two form an almost-romance but, as is often the case with these films, it never quite happens. As this is going down, Yuddy – who we learn is adopted – is trying to discover who his real mother is, going as far as trying to meet her.
As you can tell, there isn’t really an overarching plot here. As is the case with a lot of Wong’s films, the story feels almost like it’s being created in real-time (something often corroborated by the director, who claims most of his films are written as the shoot is taking place), and with it brings less of the structure we might be used to in fiction, but something closer to the unpredictability of life, punctuated by each character’s attempts to control it through small schedules. But despite their efforts, friends come and go from each other’s lives, story beats happen unprompted. It’s non-traditional, and loaded with cinematic realism, and it certainly works.
Days of Being Wild doesn’t have the maturity or the refined craftsmanship that Wong would showcase in Chungking Express, or In the Mood for Love but the hallmarks are all there. Additionally, this is his first collaboration with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and while the seams are still showing, the potential for the greatness that would come is definitely present. As it is, Days of Being Wild is very much the result of an artist developing their style. This is the start of a collection of movies that explores the ideas of being lost and adrift in a world that seems to largely ignore you, and as first steps go, it’s pretty good.
Unlike his more recent films, Days of Being Wild won’t appeal to everyone. With his later films, you can feel the experience behind the scenes, which means that even if you don’t like the sauntering nature of the story, you’ll be drawn in to the cinematography or the nuanced dialogue. It’s here, in this film, just not as strong. Still, it’s filled with brutally honest, purely human moments, and topped with subtle, expert performances from a group of people who would become synonymous with both the director and Hong Kong’s New Wave. Days of Being Wild might be part of the informal trilogy (consisting of In the Mood for Love, and 2046) but it also makes a perfect companion piece to all of Wong’s later films.
Verdict: Loaded with subtle character beats and thematic moments, Days of Being Wild is just a taste of what’s to come from director Wong Kar-wai.
Overall entertainment: 7.5/10
Violence: 4/10. Shit gets violent near the end.
Rent: What is HK$40 in today’s money?
Cameo: Tony Leung teased for a movie that will never happen
Days of Being Wild (1990)
Also known as: 阿飛正傳, True Story of a Hooligan
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Writer: Wong Kar-wai
Leslie Cheung – Yuddy
Andy Lau – Tide
Maggie Cheung – Su Li-zhen
Carina Lau – Mimi
Rebecca Pan – Rebecca
Jacky Cheung – Zeb
Danilo Antunes – Rebecca’s lover