Released in 1991, Days of Being Wild was Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai’s second feature as a director, and seems, in retrospect, to be a template for the best of his later movies. Working for the first time with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who would become his regular collaborator, Wong imbued Wild with the kind of moony green-tinged scenes that convey a feeling of lassitude and foreboding, as though his characters were sleepwalking through a menacing landscape.
The film is set in 1960, a time that Wong seems to have an intimate feel for, even though he was born in 1958. The central character, Yuddy (Leslie Chueng), is a brooding young womanizer with an aura of dangerous cool, drifting through life supported by his aunt, who he thought was his mother years before. Yuddy’s approach to women is a smooth seduction followed by growing indifference. His passion is for the initial encounter; after that, everything bores him, including his indolent life.
Leslie Cheung was a charismatic actor in many Chinese films and his suicide last year inevitably adds a doom-laden layer to his character. One of his conquests is played by the not-yet famous Maggie Cheung as a relative innocent, while the other, Mimi (Carina Lau) is a “showgirl” who’s obviously been around the block a few times. Stereotypes abound, but that serves Wong’s intent of depicting a hyper-real milieu inhabited by archetypes. He then smothers the intensity with dampening visuals and bravura camera work.
Plot was never Wong’s strong point, and his dialogue can be overheated — there’s a lot of melodramatic yammering that would make one wince in a different context — but the angst is beguiling even if it isn’t deeply felt. Wild is a collection of small set pieces — Yuddy and Mimi’s languid post-coital romp, an unexpected burst of violence — which can be both surprisingly moving and aesthetically pleasing, despite the film’s overarching disenchantment. Add to that the usual avant-garde tropes of chronological disorientation and piecemeal information, and you have a film that combines the appeal of romantic nihilism with the distancing effects of modernist narrative. Not for all tastes, obviously, but Wong fans will be in unhappy heaven.
In Chinese and Tagalog with English subtitles. Showing at 7 and 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, March 18 and 19; and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 20, at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237).
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].