- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

Not every movie afforded a revival makes a persuasive case for belated esteem. “Days of Being Wild,” an early feature by filmmaker Wong Kar Wai now being showcased exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema, provides a convenient example.

Born in Shanghai in 1958, Mr. Wong grew up in Hong Kong after his parents moved there about five years later. He was officially discovered for the American art house market by Quentin Tarantino, who arranged for the import of “Chungking Express” in 1994.

Mr. Wong realized his talent most impressively in an Asian variation on “Brief Encounter” titled “In the Mood for Love” (2000). Set in Hong Kong during the early 1960s, a favorite period for Mr. Wong, the film created a sumptuously seductive mood of yearning and anticipation around Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, cast as married professionals residing by chance in adjacent rented rooms while separated from spouses in distant cities.

A dazzling photogenic match, the co-stars were confined to smoldering beautifully as their characters proved too scrupulous or melancholy to surrender to self-evident carnal temptation. Mr. Wong’s actors were so attractive that renunciation acquired a perversely magnificent pathos.

Made a decade earlier, “Days of Being Wild” displays atmospheric and pictorial tendencies eventually glorified in “Mood,” but it lacks the human interest of the mature film. By his 40s, Mr. Wong had learned how to trust two characters and performers to sustain a picture. The human element was enhanced by stylistic refinements that delight the eye without sacrificing intimacy and coherence.

Judging from the DVD edition of “Being Wild,” Mr. Wong and his cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, who began their long association on this project, opted for the dimmest of light levels.Several scenes remain literally in the dark. Within this murk, the movie hides out, unable to clarify its themes and aspirations.

The episodes resolve around Yuddy, a callow young layabout and seducer played by Leslie Cheung. He seduces and abandons a shopgirl, Su Lizhen, played by Miss Cheung; then he carouses with a tramp, Mimi, played by Carina Lau. The lovelorn Su Lizhen cries on the shoulder of a police constable (Andy Lau) who lives in the same apartment as her heartbreaker. Tony Leung also turns up in a curiously expendable role as Mr. Cheung’s roomie. Given the prevailing darkness, two or three other tenants might be lurking on the premises.

Yuddy is purported to suffer from an abandonment “issue” of his own: He has a foster mother, called Auntie, who suggests a bordello madame and seems to have pampered him into a lamentable state of arrogance and amorality. Somewhere along the line he has become obsessed with locating his biological parents. Auntie will reveal only that they’ve moved to the Philippines, setting up a futile excursion in the final episodes.

This side trip leaves an already tattered plot in abstract smithereens and the viewer to wonder whether the protagonist is among the living, the dead or the ghostly. When you can’t make sense of characters and their conflicts, the nearest fallback position might be distracting attention with cinematic artifice, including artifice that leaves everyone in the dark, on and off the screen.

TITLE: “Days of Being Wild”

RATING:No MPAA Rating (adult subject matter, with systematic elements of sensuality and eroticism)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Wong Kar Wai. Cinematography by Christopher Doyle. In Cantonese with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME:89 minutes

DVD EDITION:Kino Video

WEB SITE: www.kino.com /daysofbeingwild/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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