The second feature by Hong Kong New Wave master Wong Kar-Wai and his first collaboration with his signature cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Days of Being Wild (Hong Kong, 1990) is Wong’s first masterpiece.
The late Hong Kong superstar Leslie Cheung is all narcissism and insolence as a lothario who seduces lonely shop girl Maggie Cheung and sneering, shallow showgirl Carina Lau, apparently motivated by little more than sheer boredom. Andy Lau is the cop who watches over Maggie, Jacky Cheung is bittersweet as a sweet-natured idiot and Leslie’s doting best friend, and Rebecca Pan plays Leslie’s aging, alcoholic foster mom, who holds on to her “son” by withholding the name of his real mother.
Set in the 1960s and shot on practically deserted locations, there isn’t much “story” to the impressionistic film, but the languorous atmosphere of longing, disconnection, and emotional isolation is hypnotic. Doyle perfected Wong’s signature skip-frame technique (which Wong described as his answer to John Woo’s slow-motion action) and delivered the woozy color and intimate slow-dance handheld photography that defined Wong’s style in Chungking Express (1994) and In the Mood for Love (2000).
The score is comprised of lush instrumental Hawaiian exotica and lounge music, but the sounds of ticking clocks, echoing footsteps down empty hallways and alleys, and squeaky of windshield wipers in the rain define their empty lives and broken relationships. It’s an arthouse film with music video stylings and a pop art sensibility.
It wasn’t a commercial success but Days of Being Wild swept the Hong Kong Film Awards with five wins, including best picture, director, cinematographer, and actor (Leslie Cheung). It also made Wong’s reputation around the world, launching him a rich career of enigmatic, impressionistic, sensual films about yearning characters and unconsummated affairs where the cinematic textures are just as expressive as the performances.
Not rated, in Cantonese with English subtitles.