Thursday, April 28, 2005

Days of Being Wild

Yesterday, I watched Wong Kar-Wai's Days of Being Wild for the second time. Days is his second film, and the first one I would really consider a Wong Kar-Wai film. His first, As Tears Go By, was a really typical late 80s Hong Kong gangster movie, that, despite some interesting shots, didn't quite work. When the best part of your movie is a montage set to a Cantopop version of 'Take My Breath Away,' you know things aren't going that well.

However, with Days, he makes a huge leap, and essentially creates the Wong Kar-Wai style that we know and love. Big cast, drifting narrative, episodic structure, voiceovers, great use of music, it's all here. The first time I saw the film I liked it, but I didn't love it. This time I loved it. In almost all his films, I feel like it takes until the second viewing to really appreciate things, because on the first viewing, you're so busy trying to figure out where you're going, you can't really appereciate the journey. If you have to worry about keeping track of character and plot arcs, it's difficult to just get lost in the amazing images and atmosphere of the film. The thing I find ironic about WKW's movies is that on the first viewing, you usually don't get the plot, you just get this feeling of what it is. It's not until the second or third viewing that you can really understand how the narrative works. This is so far removed from classical Hollywood tradition, and I think it's a big part of why his films have so much repeat value. It's almost like listening to an album, there is an overall progression, but it's not designed just for an end, each song or moment can sort of stand alone. So, like an album, you can watch the film a bunch of times and just get lost in the atmosphere of things

Days of Being Wild is the first part of WKW's 60s trilogy, which includes this, In the Mood for Love and 2046. The first time I watched this film I had seen In the Mood for Love, but I wasn't really aware of the connection between the two, and without 2046, I wasn't aware of the overall narrative arc of the piece. Seeing the three films as one story is so rewarding, and makes this already top notch film even better.

Days is almost like an overture to the next two films, introducing themes and character types that will be further developed in the two films to follow. Of all of WKW's favorite actors, Leslie Cheung is my least favorite, I'm not sure if it's him personally or just the roles he plays, but I don't like any of his characters. He always seems to play a quasi-abusive, very self centered character, and this film is no exception, but the film is an examination, and eventually, condemnation of this lifestyle, so it makes for an interesting sort of dance, as the film sees how far it can push him without making you outright dislike the guy. He's a tragic figure, and when he does die at the end, it's a sad moment, but when you see the way he treats Su-Li Zhen or Lulu/Mimi, it's tough to feel bad for what happened to him. He brought it on himself.

Looking at the overall narrative of the trilogy, York would seem to be who Tony Leung's Chow was in his younger days, and it's the personality he tries to reclaim in 2046. At the end of this film, we see Tony Leung combing his hair and getting ready for a night on the town, and he is clearly being set up as another York. The thing that changes for Chow is that he gets married, and settles down, and after that, he falls in love. York seems to be too emotionally distant to really feel anything for anyone, people get close to him, but he won't let them in. For Chow, the person he lets in is Maggie Cheung's Su-Li Zhen, who was previously in a relationship with York, which we see chronicled in this movie.

Perhaps Su-Li Zhen sees something of York in Chow, though at the end of this film, she claims to be over him. However, the last time we see her she is alone, shutting the doors on her ticket booth. So, despite having been successful in overcoming her attraction to York, and moving on from him, something that Mimi/Lulu is unable to do, she is still left alone, and it might be this loneliness that compels her to marry someone she doesn't love, and the same loneliness that leaves her open to the true love that Chow gives her.

One of the most heartbreaking scenes in this film is when we see the phone ringing, but Andy Lau isn't there to pick it up. The whole episode with Maggie Cheung and Andy Lau wandering around the city at night is probably my favorite sequence in this film. In many ways it ties into Fallen Angels, which was all about lonely people wandering through the city at night. It's an absolutely gorgeous sequence, the shadows of Andy Lau's policeman hat obscuring his face, and the same shadows leaping off of buildings onto Maggie. When I first saw the film I didn't think much of it visually, but in those scenes, you can really see the roots of WKW and Christopher Doyle's best work, and shots like the hitman and the agent sitting in the restaurant during Fallen Angels.

Anyway, this episode perfectly captures that feeling at the end of Fallen Angels, best said in the film's final words, "We didn't have far to go, and I knew I would be getting off soon, but at that moment, I felt such warmth." In Days, both Andy and Maggie leave to go their seperate ways, but they always have that night, and the connection they shared that deeply affects each of them. Andy, after not hearing from her, goes off to be a sailor, quite similar to Chow who leaves Hong Kong at the end of In the Mood For Love. At the end of the film, we see Su-Li Zhen calling the payphone, but no one answers. This is an exact parallel to the end of In the Mood For Love, in which she calls Chow, wanting to go away with him, but he has already left. It's heartbreaking both times, and to think of how much her life would have changed if either one of them would have answered those calls. Instead, Maggie remains trapped, and Chow and Andy wander aimlessly.

When we meet up with Andy again, he's clearly still thinking about Maggie, and wishing that she'd have called him. He goes along with York on his criminal exploits, and eventually is with York as he dies. I originally thought of Chow as being attractive to Su-Li Zhen because of his similarity to York, but I think it also has a lot to do with his similarity to Andy. Unhappy with York and her husband, Su-Li Zhen needs someone to confide in, in 1960 it is Andy, in 1966, it is Chow. Both offer her sympathy and genuine interest, which neither her husband or York did. Sadly for each of them, she is too late to realize how they feel about her, and by she does realize, there's no one on the other end of the phone.

2046 is a more obvious reprisal of Days of Being Wild, as Tony Leung's Chow moves into the York position, of having copious amounts of women, but not being able to connect with any of them, despite, at least in the case of Zhang Ziyi, their real love for him. Watching 2046 the first time, I was really surprised and moved by the sequence in which Chow runs into Lulu/Mimi from Days, and we get a reprise of the music, over photos of Leslie and Mimi. Just like Chow, she has been burned by someone she loved, and is now alone. The cycle continues when she does the same thing to Chang Chen, and he attacks her, almost killing her.

Just like York, we see Chow having a bunch of relationships which are meaningless to him, but mean a lot to the women involved. That said, I think Tony Leung does a great job of making us sympathetic towards his character, something that Leslie Cheung couldn't do. This is also due to t Also, I think York is just off in his own world, and never could fall in love, whereas Chow is lost because he can never find a love that matches what he had with Su-Li Zhen. But, this leads to similar results. The relationship between Chow and Zhang Ziyi is essentially the same as between York and Lulu, and things go bad for all involved.

The two films have similar endings, York is riding the train alone, and Chow is riding alone in the back of a car. York is dead, but I didn't feel too much for him, however what happens to Chow really got to me, as he longs for this past he can never get back. Because of his love for Maggie, he cannot enjoy living the bachelor life he used to live, and he ends up just trying to get back there, but forever unable to.

So, Days of Being Wild does a great job of setting up the stuff to come in the next two films, and is really interesting on its own also. I used to say this wasn't really essential to the story of In the Mood For Love/2046, but looking at it now, I'd say it probably should be watched because even if it isn't connected to the plot of the two latter films, the characters and atmosphere all start here.


Unknown said...

Wow... this is a terrific piece! I've just watched all three of these in the last couple months, and WKW has almost overnight become one of my favorite and profoundly memorable directors I've ever seen. I'm a huge fan of Ozu and Kurosawa and have recently lamented the lack of the "everyday" in modern Japanese cinema, and WKW has shown me that China has the answer. Again, this was a great piece!

Note: I actually found this site by Googling "Days of Being Wild Ending" because I KNEW that was Tony Leung in that very low-ceiling room, but I couldn't find any mention of him in the cast. So, thanks for clearing that up for me. As for it being a trilogy, I love this idea, and it's really nice to find them when they are all done here in the future... haha. The wait between Days and Mood must've been interminable!

Patrick said...

I know there were plans for the Days sequel back in the early 90s, and I'm not sure that WKW even knew that Mood would be that sequel when he started the film. But, it became it, and I think it's all the richer for it. I particularly like the echoes of Days in 2046. It makes sense that he moved on to America afterwards since 2046 so neatly brought everything he'd done full circle.

Unknown said...

I found your post by Googling 'Days of Being Wild Ending' too.

I re-watched the film last night and was as impressed as ever. In fact I was half screaming when Leslie Cheung starts talking in his very self-indulgent manner - his charisma! His acting may not be perfect in this film but if you 'know' him as in off-screen you will know this role is really for him. I still can't quite believe that he jumped off Mandarin Hotel on April Fools' day in 2003...

And then of course the ending is incomparable, nothing would have prepared the audience for this and yet it just gives that extra dose of excitement and ambience to end the film beautifully.

Just wanted to add that Wong Kar-wai is ultimately a HONG KONG director - please bear in mind that Hong Kong is very DIFFERENT from China.

Unknown said...

Loved all three movies!

Junior Holganza said...

This is a great piece (as others have stated). You hit it right on the head at how the characters connect. Your thoughts and how you see the movie made me appreciate the movie even more. Incredible. That's why I love Wong Kar Wai's films. They just have a depth to them that most films do not have or rarely have. Again, great great piece!

dnk said...

Good post, but I completely disagree with you re Leslie. I don't know if you're a girl or just someone who's had a bad experience with a player, but I feel he acted really well in Days.

He captured the soul of a player, of how to be spoilt and selfish and play girls for the sake of it.

I loved all three films. They all have something most people can relate to, whether it's playing girls, confiding in someone, getting burnt by love, realising too late, etc.

If you're a player, maybe you can relate to York and Chow. If you're the victim, maybe you can relate to Lili and Bai Ling. Or if you ever experience true love that just didn't work out but still feels sweet, you can relate to In The Mood for Love.

Unknown said...

Blown away par Wong Kar Wai's movie...I stumbled upon this magnificent piece after spending a week under/on/with WKW movies...starting with Into the mood for love(for the 2nd time), continuing with Chungking express,then Days of being wild and Happy!I didn't feel the connection yet because I've seen 2046 long time ago and didn't enjoy it as much as others were. But now! Boy I am under WKW spell and even happy I've (God knows how) skipped his movies... I guess the time is just right. Well - thank you for writing this - it's an excellent piece :)

kai said...

Love your study on the three films. I, myself,�, was ,,, was too blown away by the evocative hues of the moments, I didn't have time neither took the effort to string the pieces of the story together as strongly as you have.

I love the parallelism & contrasts you have made between Yuddy/York & Chow's characters.

Being a Leslie post fan, I wonder how he would do if he played Chow's character instead of Tony.

I love how Maggie portrayed the elegant Si LLiZhen. She was impossibly gorgeous. Carina Las, herself, was good in her brash and vulgar Lulu, too.

Enjoyed your review and I'm sure I'll be rereading this in years to come.

Iain said...

Hi. I also really liked your post! And also found this by googling 'Days of Being Wild ending'. I thought it was Tony Leung but wasn't quite sure.

I haven't watched a WKW film for quite a while, after loving his films some 10 years ago or so, and decided to rewatch this one and it really took my back in. And I agree with you, the scene of Maggie and Andy Lau walking around the streets talking is the one that really stood out for me too. There was a quiet elegance to it that contrasted the scenes of high emotion where we are often left feeling empty, longing for something with a bit more meaning.

I didn't really realise this film was connected to In the Mood For Love and 2046 in that way, so that was interesting, and makes sense.

And I really loved the ending, somehow it worked. Wong is a bit of a master of this, he finds a way to make a jump like this that seems illogical, or too abstract, but the feeling and mood of it work, and it becomes an ending that feels more life-like. There's a lesson in it but you can't quite understand it straight away, and it echoes how life does not move logically, it is a mish mash of emotions and moments that we are left to make sense of.

I might have to jump back into more of his films again. Thanks for the article and for leaving it up (seems it was written a while ago!) so us fellow fans can see it and comment.

All the best !