Not rated. The concrete thing you could point to is some of the violence. While a much more tame film than As Tears Go By, there are scenes of brutality and violence. People die. That's a thing. But the more ambiguous issues involve the fact that the protagonist (?) of the film sleeps around a lot. While there isn't any nudity that I remember, it does feel sleazy at times. Not Rated.
DIRECTOR: Wong Kar-Wai
How?! How does a director improve so much in one movie only two years later? This is the Wong Kar-Wai that I know. This is what made me want to buy the box set. I've never seen Days of Being Wild before, but my buddy Jeff (unless I'm hallucinating my memories...which is possible) really dug this movie. He goes from being a not-very-good director to being a genius in one film? Seriously? It's such a reserved and vulnerable film and I wasn't ready for that, considering that he made it a movie about gangsters and tough guys again.
I don't know how I'm going to talk about Days of Being Wild without looking at In the Mood for Love. There's a lot there that's similar. Part of me actually hopes that the rest of the films aren't like In the Mood for Love simply because I want to get new things and I don't want this blog to be one thing over and over again. But I don't know how he did it. What happened between 1988 and 1990 that Wong Kar-Wai became this absolute master auteur? Part of it makes me feel like As Tears Go By might have been a cultural expectation for him. It might have been a young director doing all of the radical things that he thinks cinema needed. I listen to a lot of comedy podcasts and the biggest critique that I hear about early comics is that they haven't developed their own voices, but rather mimic other voices. There's so much John Woo in As Tears Go By that I can understand that maybe Wong Kar-Wai had to strip all of that away to get to something like Days of Being Wild. Because the elements of Wong Kar-Wai are there. I don't know how setting something in 1960 is so effective when it comes to his storytelling, but it helps so much.
I think that might be something that is fundamentally him. 1960 allows Wong Kar-Wait to have a certain aesthetic that really works for him. Sure, his version of the '60s is a saturated color palate. But it is also the notion of rust and atrophy. Nothing is overly sleek. It's beautiful, no denying. But there's a beauty in the stains that infiltrate every frame. It creates this contrast to the costumes that scream the disappearance of Old World China. The odd thing is that there's almost nothing in the film that requires the story to be set in the '60s shy of the presence of gangsters. But even the gangsters could be something in the '90s. I don't even care though. I don't need the justification. In the same way that Wes Anderson creates his own sense of timelessness, Wong Kar-Wai's fictional China is perfect in its own way.
I do wonder why Jeff (again, this is almost two decades ago) picked Days of Being Wild as his Wong Kar-Wai of choice. I think I know. Yeah, the gangster stuff doesn't really get to me. But I love what Wild does for the romance. The movie is incredibly romantic, but it doesn't let itself be a movie solely about romance. In the first few minutes, this reads like a movie about a romance doomed to fail over time. Well, that's right to a certain extent. That romance dies almost immediately. We have this mislead of who the protagonist of the movie is because we simply assume that the narrator Su Li-zhen had a lot to gain or lose in the first shot. She is the one who spurns Yuddy's flirtations only to eventually succumb to his charms. He's gross from moment one, no doubt about that. But because we've all been wired with tropes, they seemed like they were going to bring the best and worst out of each other. But then they break up almost immediately and Su Li-zhen seems like she has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. It's only once we have forgotten about her as a character do we get treated with this wide world of Su Li-zhen.
That world is one of pining and self-pity, leading to actualization. It becomes this welcome break from a movie about miserable people being miserable together. She has this whole other life outside of her relationship with Yuddy. Yeah, we get to meet her through her ties to Yuddy, but then we get this cool interaction with Officer Tide, who ends up playing this pivotal role in the film. But even me writing about this the way that I am seems like it isn't taking everything into account in terms of storytelling. Because it is a romance story and it isn't. There are all these stories out there where a romance is shoehorned in possibly to gain a greater audience. I know that my wife will hate a lot of movies that don't really have some romantic plotline involved somehow. But Days of Being Wild inverts that. It has romance as its foundation, but the drama is injected to make the romance real somehow. There's nothing really fake about these characters. It isn't a film about grand gestures and tropes. It's about romance revealing the whole person, whether or not that person is to be valued or not.
When I read the summary for this movie (after I had watched it and it was just at the top of the page of imDb), it was about Yuddy trying to find his real mother. What's interesting about this film is that it is hard to pin down what the movie is really about. Heck, at one point, Yuddy, the protagonist, shifts from the main character to being a setting for the film. (I'm confusing myself.) It's the world that Yuddy has created for the people around him. He is this fundamentally broken person. It's odd, because you would think that he would be the most dynamic. He is the one who is coming with the most baggage and internal conflict to work through, but Yuddy starts the movie and ends the movie in the same place. It is everyone else in the film who changes because of their interactions with Yuddy. He finds his mother and it becomes this almost side note to the film, despite the fact that it was his driving motivation while he lives with his adoptive mother. But all of those other characters lead these full lives because Yuddy is so broken. It's like being aware of a character's juxtaposing traits when you are one of the elements being juxtaposed.
Even Leung Fung-Ying ends up a different person. I don't want to say that she ends up a good person. But she also ends up as this person with hope. When her character was introduced, there was a bit of ickiness that I didn't care for in the film. She's this character who is borderline raped, but kind of likes that she is raped. I don't love that because it seems controversial to be controversial (hold on!). But even that it so contrast her relationship with Yuddy to the relationship that Su-Lizhen has with Yuddy. She is this character who is defined by her crassness and her unlikability. She even ends the film confronting Su Li-zhen, but there's something in the performance that makes you question what she really believes at the end. Instead of having this grand gesture about the changes a person goes through, she has this far more organic shift into her character. She's someone who is ready to meet someone healthy, yet strong. She's left as a character full of possibility and that's great.
Sure, there's an element of "Isn't it a small world?" to the whole piece. The fact that Tide meets Yuddy and the two go through these amazing circumstances together is beyond belief. But that relationship also ties into the notion that people lead fuller lives beyond the archetypes that they are introduced as. Tide as a cop was someone different than Tide the sailor. He's different with Yuddy than he is with Su Li-zhen. He's richer and he's fuller. Yes, it has to take a little suspension of disbelief to get these two into a room together, but the benefits far outweigh that logical leap.
The movie is gorgeous. Even if you watch it exclusively for the mood that Wong Kar-Wai creates, it is heaven. It's so passionate and vulnerable that I get why Jeff loves it so (if he even does!). After my disappointing time with As Tears Go By, I'm excited for the rest of the box set.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.