[director Wong Kar-Wai]
Color 94 min
Wong Kar-Wai purists still love Days of Being Wild best. Why, I don’t know. The film is beautiful, all right. Sometimes even indescribably beautiful. But the story, such as it is, moves so slowly, focusing on the saddest, loneliest group of characters ever to grace the screen, that it loses any sense of dramatic propulsion. This is a flaw that Wong would remove by his next film, Ashes of Time.
The story is set in the 60s, but the settings are very, very abstract. For a great evocation of 60s Hong Kong, try Wong’s later masterpiece, In the Mood for Love. But this story centers around a rather boorish playboy who abuses the women that he picks up so casually. He toys with their emotions and sends them packing, leaving them to pick up the pieces of their shattered dreams and feelings. Apparently, it’s all because the woman who raised him never told him who his real mother was.
Leslie Cheung plays the lout to perfection. He plays a much more complex lout in director Wong’s Ashes of Time, and another complex lout in Chen Kaige’s Temptress Moon, and then even another complex lout in Wong’s later movie, Happy Together. But this is his original lout. It’s fascinating to see how his technique at playing a lout improves from movie to movie.
Maggie Cheung also shines in her part. She is impressive as the first woman seduced by Leslie. Watching Maggie deal with the rejection and finally accept it and move on with her life is fascinating. By this point in her career, she was beginning to exhibit the skills that would make her into one of the best actresses in the world.
As a side note, Tony Leung (whose character is listed as “Smirk” in the credits) is featured prominently on all the movie’s promotional artwork; but, to the perplextion of many, Tony appears for three minutes, only in the last scene. Fans have agonized for years about this fabled “non-performance,” but Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle have both gone on the record about this. Tony was being introduced as the main character in a sequel to Days. Before the movie flopped at the box office it was being touted as the “it” movie of the year, mostly because of the range of star appearances (including Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau, Jacky Cheung, and Andy Lau) in the film. So Wong and company pre-sold a sequel, featuring Tony Leung Chiu Wai as a card shark. They shot some scenes of it, but the footage was ultimately scrapped when the original film failed to make bank. Since that time, many of Wong’s subsequent features have been put forth by fans as a kind of “follow-up” to Days; but honestly, I think everything Wong has done after Days is so much better than that work, that none of it deserves to be called a “follow-up” to this less-developed earlier project.
Some people have also suggested that, taking the film as a stand-alone movie independent from its unfinished sequel, Tony Leung plays Maggie Cheung’s new boyfriend, and that his cameo, the final scene in the film (showing Tony dressing up to the nines and going out), shows Tony getting ready for a date with Maggie. Maggie’s character has closed up at work for the night, and there is some visual indication in the film that she is going out with someone that evening. At any rate, this possibility makes for a much more satisfying conclusion to both the mystery of these last scenes and to the movie as a whole.