Director Wong crafts Days of Being Wild as a series of vignettes, only with the film’s principal character never the protagonist of any of these vignettes. Wong and editors Kai Kit-wai and Patrick Tam go for lyrical transitions (or none at all); combined with the emptiness of Wild’s Hong Kong (busy places at times they aren’t busy), there’s palpable mood. Terry Chan’s music, which evokes sixties pop (only desperate), is also essential.
That main character who never gets to be protagonist is Leslie Cheung. He’s a lothario–the film opens with his seduction of shopgirl Maggie Cheung before he moves on to dancer Carina Lau. The first act of the film, which establishes all the characters, is the most unlike the rest. Wong makes verbal reference to off-screen characters who later become important, he makes sure the viewer understands all the relationships. The vignettes don’t start until the second act (so I guess Leslie Cheung does get to be the protagonist for a bit in the first act).
But once the vignettes start, beginning with Maggie Cheung’s return to the film and her friendship with Andy Lau (as the police officer whose beat includes Leslie Cheung’s building). Then it’s Carina Lau’s turn. She sort of shares her time with Rebecca Pan (as Leslie Cheung’s adoptive mother).
Wong isn’t concerned with making his characters likable. No one likes Leslie Cheung, not even his friends–Jacky Cheung, as his sidekick, is just as much a conquest as any of the women–but Carina Lau’s pretty awful too. Maggie Cheung and Andy Lau could both be read as saints, but Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle don’t much go for sainthood. There’s darkness and fuzziness to everyone, with the possible exception of Pan. Even though she should be despicable (she bought Leslie Cheung from his birth mother), she’s still extremely sympathetic. Maybe because she’s so self-aware.
Great performances from Carina Lau and Maggie Cheung. Leslie Cheung and Jacky Cheung are both effective, but–until the third act–the real problem with Wild is Leslie Cheung’s far from the most interesting character Wong’s got going here. Even though Andy Lau’s got a bland role to play (sturdy guy), he potentially has a lot more depth than Leslie Cheung.
Then the third act comes along and Wong decides he wants to try out an entirely different kind of film (stylistically, each vignette has its own feel) and it doesn’t work out. Maybe because it’s Andy Lau’s vignette about how he runs into Leslie Cheung later on and they have a misadventure. It feels forced. Everything else is organic. That final vignette, with its melodramatic action, just doesn’t work out.
By the time Wong brings everyone else back in for the wrap-up, it feels like he’s trying to cover. He can’t.
Days of Being Wild is still a beautifully made film, beautifully constructed narrative. It’s just the plotting (and perspective) where Wong is off.
Directed by Wong Kar-wai; written by Wong and Jeffrey Lau; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; edited by Kai Kit-wai and Patrick Tam; music by Terry Chan; production designer, William Chang; produced by Rover Tang; released by In-Gear Films.
Starring Leslie Cheung (Yuddy), Maggie Cheung (Su Li-zhen), Andy Lau (Tide), Carina Lau (Leung Fung-ying), Jacky Cheung (Zeb) and Rebecca Pan (Rebecca).