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Two years after crashing onto the mean streets of Hong Kong with As Tears Go By, director Wong Kar-wai returned with an altogether more mature affair. 1990’s Days of Being Wild sees the Asian auteur already raising his game to the level of an inventive and seasoned professional. If Tears… made audiences sit up and pay attention, Days… began to teach them just how stylish and sonorous his films could be. With visual lay lines stretching forward to In the Mood for Love and 2046, Tartan’s January releases cast a backward look in Wong Kar-wai’s catalogue.

Days of Being Wild
Film
Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) is a handsome and vain young man swaggering around 1960s Hong Kong. With a private income, he wears the fashionable clothes of the time, drifts through town and woos the beauties he comes across. His predatory attitude towards women is soon drawn as he courts kiosk worker Su Lizhen (Maggie Cheung) with stealthy confidence. Through Su we enter Yuddy’s world and learn he is as versed as getting women’s hearts and minds into his sack as he is opposed to showing them any compassion or commitment. As the summer heat of the city bears down upon its citizens, so Yuddy’s indifference holds his lovers close to him, making them do all the running to keep some semblances of a relationship going.

Yuddy, we discover, is kept by his status-conscious, socialite stepmother (Poon Tik-wa). Not only does she keep in sufficient money him, but he also protects her from the vapid gold-diggers who take advantage of her alcoholism and increasing loneliness. But this is no relationship of concern or familial devotion. Yuddy knows he was abandoned as a baby and is desperate to find his real mother. His stepmother knows who his mother is, but refuses to tell him. She positively rubs her power in his face. She cares for Yuddy selfishly, in that with him she has had money, has a son and has someone in her life. He cares for her with equal self-concern, keeping her close and forever working on her to reveal her secrets. The animosity and affection between them is hardly concealed through their politely spoken exchanges of spite and intent.

Days of Being Wild
Yuddy’s tragic beginning and his hate/love/hate relationship with his stepmother sound out great emotional depth in his languorous lifestyle and callous attitude to women. He is a stagnant motherless figure, waiting for his life to begin. Waiting to develop into a complete being, rather than frozen in his half-developed emotional self. He is set on an intriguing and absorbing narrative arc. Throughout, Leslie Cheung plays the journeying Yuddy with engrossing conviction and impressive restraint. Despite the slightly forced initial scenario, Cheung consistently plays Yuddy’s inner turmoil and vain struggles with believable conviction.

This credibility is further strengthened by another simmering performance from Jacky Cheung as Yuddy’s at-arms-length friend, Zeb. Drawn to and envious of Yuddy’s lifestyle, his efforts to emulate this big brother figure are both tragic and human.

When the spurned Su develops a fragile friendship with a local policeman (Andy Lau), further characters become involved and layers are explored through the story. Lau also invests his bobby with caring integrity and a seamed personality. With a frail mother whose attention determines his choices, he isn’t so far removed from Yuddy.

With characteristically structured storytelling, Wong Kar-wai’s screenplay sees paths become crossed as events gather their own pace towards a satisfying but surprising denouement. It’s an ever-intriguing tale that’s supported by fine performances throughout. This is the film that saw Wong Kar-wai’s ability to not only craft a fine tale, but also tale it with inventive style and aplomb, turn into to cinematic talent to be reckoned with.

Days of Being Wild
A lot of effort has gone into recreating both the décor and feel for the period and this is never wasted. Days of Being Wild marked one of Wong Kar-wai’s early collaborations with renowned cinematographer Chris Doyle (2046, Hero, Rabbit Proof Fence). The viewer is richly rewarded as their melding of minds ups the visually stakes considerably, when compared to As Tears Go By. Wong Kar-wai and Doyle portray things with a sumptuous attention to shot, colour and tone that truly textures the story. Moreover, Wong Kar-wai’s maturing direction leads and is led by the action and narrative making it as gratifyingly expressive as the scenes he shoots.

Video
The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer does credit to Wong Kar-wai and Doyle’s impressive frame settings, especially the natural beauty of the landscapes that York travels through. Sadly, the picture quality can all too readily undermine this. There is a regular amount black spotting in the brighter scenes and almost ever-present subtle dandruff in the darkest tones. Considering that when we first meet Andy Lau’s policeman he’s always on the graveyard shift, for example, the darkness is deliberately manifest. It’s a shame because Wong Kar-wai’s evidently working to make light as much a personality, or an individualising facet of each of the cast, as the characters themselves. Purists may find this a little undermined.

Days of Being Wild
Audio
As with As Tears Go By, there is only a solitary Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Mandarin audio track that doesn’t stand up to great examination. The film is fifteen years old but the quality is again a shame. Given that this is mostly a 1960s affair featuring repressed emotions and social mores, when the poignant pauses give over to dialogue laden with intent you really want to believe that the mouths are synching with the words that you hear all the time.

Wong Kar-wai uses a recognisably late 80s soundtrack heavily imbued with a wailing sax. It’s quite unobtrusive, though, and doesn’t distract from the film, even if in the early noughties it doesn’t quite feel that it’s adding to the piece. There are optional English subtitles.

Extras
The disc sleeve lists ‘extensive film notes’ but these were not on the review disc. Original trailers are also listed as being on the actual release. There’s a small selection of Tartan release trailers: 2046, My Architect, Dans Ma Peau, Super Size Me and In the Mood for Love.

Days of Being Wild
Overall
Days of Being Wild cleared up at the Hong Kong Film festival in the year of its release, swooping Best Actor for Leslie Cheung and Best Cinematography for Doyle, with Wong Kar-wai taking Best Picture and Best Director awards. The quality of the piece cannot be denied and no released format could ever mask this. For a story-centric character piece, it stands are remarkably well to repeated viewings. Sadly the DVD won’t be winning any awards though. This is one for experiencing a quality film at home, but not a quality home film experience.


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