English Title: Days of Being Wild
Original Title: Ah fei zing zyun 阿飞正传
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese, Shanghainese, Mandarin, Tagalog, English
Genre: Drama, Romance, Crime
Director: Wong Kar-wai 王家卫
Wong Kar-wai 王家卫
Jeffrey Lau 刘镇伟
Music: Terry Chan 陈明道
Cinematography: Christopher Doyle
Leslie Cheung 张国荣
Carina Lau 刘嘉玲
Maggie Cheung 张曼玉
Andy Lau 刘德华
Jacky Cheung 张学友
Rebecca Pan 潘迪华
Tony Leung Chiu-wai 梁朝伟
Sophomore feature of Hong Kong taste-maker Wong Kar-wai, DAYS OF BEING WILD is part of the furniture on any list that elects best Chinese films, but in retrospect, it was somewhat of a damp squib upon its release in terms of its box-office pull, especially when taking account of its stellar cast (6 mega-stars in toto), fortunately, its reappraisal has never lost its momentum ever since.
Bestowed with searing good looks, Leslie Cheung indubitably holds court as Yuddy, the titular “ah fei”, which means “hooligan”, a skirt-chaser who callously shirks any responsibility or commitment, and peculiarly, Leslie tempers Yuddy’s wantonness with a pinprick of vulnerability that is so amazingly vicarious and betrays what a beautifully damaged goods he is, and Wong’s trademark ambient construction of its blue-hued, mise-en-scène (poky space, lustful undertow, ambiguous closeups, plus aesthetic compositions by the yard, marked by his first collaboration with Christopher Doyle) and exotic music numbers impeccably tallies with Leslie’s decadent and destructive charisma, to great lengths that one can hardly distinguish whether he is acting or not.
Yuddy’s victims include a mousy stadium ticket clerk Su Lizhen (Maggie Cheung, exuding an unyielding quality of passiveness and self-involvement that shows up her acting chops), and later a vivacious cabaret dancer Mimi (a no-holds-barred Carina Lau, achingly taking the short end of the stick as a crass, cast-off lover), these two girls are diametrical in their makeups, yet, in the eyes of Yuddy, they barely differ, his misogynistic perspective has its own provenance, raised by Rebecca (Pan), an erstwhile fille-de-joie who perversely keeps a lid on the identity of Yuddy’s biological mother, Yuddy revels in their toxic love/hate relationship, which exacerbates through their bilingual (Shanghainese and Cantonese) barbs-exchange, Pan remarkably holds her own with moxie and pathos in this quintessential object lesson of the hand that rocks the cradle.
When Yuddy is off screen, the plot meanders into less appealing subplots pairing a distraught Mimi with Zeb (Jacky Cheung), Yuddy’s buddy, who carries a torch for her; and a distressed Lizhen with a peripatetic policeman Tide (Andy Lau), who will later become a sailor and comes across Yuddy during the third act in Philippines, as a witness when the latter’s fate is sealed by his reckless, feckless action. Wong and co-screenwriter Jeffrey Lau lard the narrative with incisive wheezes to decipher Yuddy’s existential philosophy, from his one-minute friend pick-up line to the allegory of the feet-less, paradise bird, poetically encapsulates Wong’s story-light, mood-heavy winning allure.
Lastly, Tony Leung Chiu-wai’s famous cameo as the new “ah fei” near the coda seems out of nowhere today, but as a matter of fact, it strongly tantalizes what its botched sequel would be if it would be green-lit, and Tony would become Wong’s most eminent leading man ever since. In a sense, it inadvertently adds a strange layer of mystique which drastically boosts Wong’s nascent career, and presages his future auteurist ascension, as we would know by now, the best is yet to come.
companion pieces: Wong Kar-wai’s CHUNGKING EXPRESS (1994, 9.0/10), HAPPY TOGETHER (1997, 9.2/10), IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000, 9.3/10), THE GRANDMASTER (2013, 8.1/10).