Thursday, March 24, 2005

The late Leslie Cheung plays the aimless ladies' man Yuddy in "Days of Being Wild."

Wild love

History is kind to an Asian film
that flopped at its 1991 premiere

It's hard to believe nowadays, considering Wong Kar-Wai's stature as an internationally acclaimed filmmaker, that his now-heralded "Days of Being Wild" was a box-office failure in its native Hong Kong back in 1991.

"Days of Being Wild"

Not Rated

Playing at 1 and 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, Sunday and March 29; 4 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday; 7:30 p.m. March 28; and 1 p.m. March 30 at the Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Academy of Arts


This despite having such stars as the late Leslie Cheung (a major HK pop and movie star throughout his career), Andy Lau (recently seen in "House of Flying Daggers"), Jacky Cheung, as well as a still-fresh faced Maggie Cheung. She had worked with Wong on his debut arthouse film "As Tears Go By" three years earlier, but she was better known at the time playing opposite Jackie Chan in his two popular "Police Story" movies.

Even though the film had all the makings of a potboiler of a romantic drama -- with its characters coping, in their own ways, with the vicissitudes of love with one another -- Wong kept the melodrama at arm's length, letting the characters' stories play out in an unhurried and elliptical way.

"Days of Being Wild" also marked Wong's first collaboration with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who made his reputation with this film.

The two men created a muted palette of color for this film, generally using static and deep focus shots, with the occasional high angle camera placement. Only once does the camerawork bring attention to itself, and that's with a long-tracking Steadicam shot that anticipates the film's only act of violence.

The intertwined lives and desires of an amoral ladies' man, his well-off ex-call girl of a caretaker, his self-doubting friend, a quiet and lonely shopgirl from Macao, a brash and driven club dancer, and a befriended night policemen are handled with grace and certainty by Wong, who already shows here at this early stage in his career a sensitivity in his choice of soundtrack music.

Yuddy and Mimi (Carina Lau) share an intimate moment.

The sensuous rumbas that were popular in 1960 Hong Kong (where the film takes place) play as a assured counterpoint to the turmoil of the love lives of the six people.

Wong gets the best out of his cast. Leslie Cheung, once dubbed "the Elvis Presley of Hong Kong," uses his smoldering good looks to mask his character's emotional abuse. Maggie Cheung, as the resilient shopgirl, has one fine scene as she confesses to Lau's policeman character her quiet desperation.

And actresses Carina Lau and Tita Mu–oz deserve special mention for their respective portrayals of the dancer and the caretaker.

"In the beginning, I wanted to tell a story about love in those early years," Wong said of his film, "how love was a many calamitous thing and that there was no cure for those infected. Time may heal wounds but there is no way to mend a broken heart."

For one of his characters, it means death. But with the film's final scene, the memory and romance of that person lives on to the life-affirming pulse of a rumba.

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