Embarrassingly, up until very recently I had not seen a lot of Wong Kar Wai. By which I basically mean none. But I am determined to correct my cinematic errors and last night, desperately needing something to clear my brain from the mediocrity that was Alexander, I dug around and came up with Days of Being Wild. It was the right choice; it’s haunting me.
It reminds me of the Bayeux Tapestry. Wong flattens out the passage of time, deliberately eschewing conventional sequential techniques. There’s no build-up, no climax to the scenes. Things happen, flat against the backdrop of the world. The four protagonists shuffle around, touch each others lives, talk in pairs, and shuffle again. Time passes like a metronome, without emphasis.
It reminds me of the 60s, not just because it’s set in the 60s, but because it breathes cool with every understated frame. Wong’s camera, aided and abetted by Christopher Doyle, glides from shot to shot. He has an unerring eye for the significant angles of everyone’s face. Maggie Cheung’s in particular, of course, but he doesn’t stint on Leslie Cheung’s spoiled handsomeness either. Set the pop star actors against Christopher Doyle’s superb cinematography, and you’ve got the most elegant movie in the world.
There’s this fine line Wong walks there: the actors are filmed as beings of glamour, but their characters are bit players living out ordinary lives. Which does not, mind you, deprive them of importance. That’s another underlying truth to the world Wong creates: people are important because love is important because connections are important. They recur, no matter how much one might hide from them. Wong’s a romantic.
In the end there’s a climax to the movie. It only resolves one story, though. Maggie Cheung and Andy Lau and Carina Lau and Jacky Cheung, they’re still floating in 60s Hong Kong, looking for ways to connect, finding little hope.
Days of Being Wild will be playing at the MFA in Boston, February 25 through March 1, 2004. Or cut to the chase and get it from Kino, either alone or as part of their Wong Kai Wai box set.
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