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Like some New-Wave Proust, Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai has
managed, over a 20-year career, to make the concept of time almost tangible.
“Almost” because in all his films, memory is both garishly lucid and
seductively elusive — a combination as maddening as it is voluptuous. Just like
the romance and heartbreak so minutely observed in all of Wong’s movies, the
obsession with time (his, ours and the characters’) always goes unrequited.
Memories overtake you, please or even teach you, but with reverie come the depressing
reminders that time marches on. You will lose that era, you will lose that youth,
and you may even lose that girl or boy.

This is the cinematic power of Wong Kar-Wai, a director who is
able to make you tear up over a single glance or a stolen moment. And like Proust’s
madeleine unleashing a flood of reminiscences in the narrator of his novel,
Wong works the elements of his aesthetic — music, beautiful people and emotion
— into a mood that so overtakes you it’s nearly impossible to emerge from his
films without feeling slightly drunk.

Such is the case with the re-release of Wong’s 1991 movie Days
of Being Wild
, a period piece set in 1960 that not only plays with time
and memories, but causes the viewer to do the same. It has been over a decade,
after all, since the picture played, briefly, on a few U.S. screens, and Wong’s
actors — Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau and Carina Lau — are older now.
One, even (pop star Leslie Cheung, who committed suicide in April 2003), is
dead, giving the picture an extra twinge of transitory poignancy.

It’s stirring to see Leslie Cheung so handsome, so alive, as the
rootless bad boy and philanderer Yuddy, adopted in his infancy by a powdered
and spangled courtesan (Tita Muñoz), searching for both the freedom of
flight and the stability he hopes will come after finding his real mother. Meanwhile,
his cynical attitude toward amour will, over the course of the movie, leave
two women brokenhearted. One of them, Su Lizhen, a shy cashier at a sports-stadium
snack bar (Maggie Cheung), at first resists Yuddy’s advances, but inevitably
falls for him after he proclaims, when they first meet, that she will see him
that night in her dreams. When she tells him the next day, “I didn’t see
you in my dreams last night,” his cocksure reply is “Of course not.
You didn’t sleep.”

A short time later, and just as suddenly (after Su Lizhen has
started making noises about wanting to get married), the union dissolves, and
Yuddy impulsively takes up with the more outspoken, though just as susceptible
and possessive, cooch dancer Leung Fung-Ying (Carina Lau). But as Yuddy stated
to Su Lizhen, there will be many women in his life — how can he settle for just
one? If you stay with me, he tells both women in turn, you’ll only ruin your
life. At the same time, while Yuddy is no romantic, he is certainly quixotic,
and his search for his mother suggests that he is, in fact, looking for the
love of one woman.

The first film to be shot for Wong by ace Australian cinematographer
Christopher Doyle, Days of Being Wild is a mélange of vibrant
colors set against deep, noirish shadows and claustrophobic locales. Told achronologically,
the story flashes back through lush jungles, small, humid apartments, rain-soaked
streets and unoccupied telephone booths. As in Wong’s peerless 2000 film In
the Mood for Love
(a picture that, along with Wong’s latest, 2046,
works as a companion piece to Days), its ’60s setting is nostalgic, but
not in conventional terms. Though Wong denotes a sentimental longing for the
past, his films are almost fetishistic in their fixation on time. Days
feels exciting, in part, because you are watching an auteur lay the groundwork
— with an assortment of clocks, watches and meticulously detailed moments —
for ideas and moods he will obsessively follow in later films. At one point,
Yuddy tells Su Lizhen that they will become “60-second friends,” and
those 60 seconds remind us of how we can feel most alive in the moment, when
the time is now, and we are living out our youth and love with a kind of urgency.
At the same time, the characters in Days of Being Wild move like the
haunting Django Reinhardt music piping through the celluloid, beautifully but
mournfully, and with ghostlike delicacy. With Wong’s creations, as with anything
truly precious (time, say, or love), comes the fear of evaporation. You can
hang on to the “maybe” (maybe it will last) or, as in Nat King
Cole’s plaintive musical refrain to In the Mood for Love, a more fragile
“Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.”

DAYS OF BEING WILD | Written and directed by WONG KAR-WAI
| Produced by ROVER TANG Released by Kino International | At the Nuart