Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Days of Being Wild (1990)

By Eric Jessen 7/8/09

I wish Wong Kar-Wai would pull the restraints off his tired love stories. His photography is often beautiful. He can make a night time street corner look like a magical dream world. His camera “glides through walls” reminiscent of Max Ophuls. He weaves characters together masterfully. Why is he always peddling lame, “we've been through this a thousand times,” love stories? In Days of Being Wild we're stuck with a rag tag bunch of basket case “young adults.” Too old to be innocent and too young to be wise. They're 18-25 and they're bitter, cynical, mopey, indifferent and then all of a sudden lustful in a period of 90 minutes. They are “wandering,” searching for love or just a one night stand. These are the same people we saw in many of Jean-Luc Godard's movies. Except they aren't fodder for Godard's mocking. Wong Kar-Wai is trying to take them seriously, as if their problems, hardships, and short lived semi-serious desperation is extremely important and interesting.
Our main character in Days of Being Wild is Yuddy, played by famous Chinese actor Leslie Cheung. He's slick, he's smooth, and he knows how to act like he is damaged and needy so he can pick up women. But once he gets them into bed he can't wait to get them out the door. Yuddy tells women he's “a kind of bird with no legs. All it can do is fly and fly. When it gets tired, it sleeps on the wind. This bird can only land once in its whole life. That's the moment it dies.” Later we are told “that bird never actually flew anywhere because it was dead from the very beginning.” That sounds about right. We've come to a realization. The movie is telling us we've been watching dead people the entire time. No wonder I thought all the characters were so bland.
But I will say I find that story catchy and it leads me to an interesting point about Days of Being Wild and all Chinese movies. Watching a Wong Kar-Wai movie can be a frustrating battle of repressed emotions. All the characters look like they are trying to hold everything in and restrain themselves. It is similar to something directed by Robert Bresson (shooting a scene 50 times to strip the emotion from the characters faces). Maybe it's part of Chinese culture and tradition to not show your emotions. But so many times while watching Days of Being Wild and definitely while watching one of Wong Kar-Wai other movies, In the Mood for Love, I wanted someone to scream. The characters with a fire burning inside them, the ones that look like they're going to explode can be interesting. For much of Days of Being Wild I thought Cheung showed some of that interesting quality. But the characters that suppress their motions to the point of seeming dead inside are completely tiring.
There's one thing I always feel after watching a Wong Kar-Wai movie. I'm always left wanting more. Because, with all of his talent and skill, I still am willing to wait for the moment the story gets interesting and the emotions gets ramped up and he reaches magnificence.

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