A revival of Wong Kar-Wai's sophomore film, 1991's Days of Being Wild, shows the writer-director already pursuing the themes and visual styles that would bring him critical acclaim in more recent films including Happy Together (1997) and 2000's In the Mood for Love.
Like In the Mood, Days is set in early 1960s Hong Kong, an ethereal sort of place born of selective nostalgia. In this vaguely dreamlike locale, the city is eerily quiet, marked by persistent rain and the occasional incongruous pop song issuing forth from a cheap radio. It is a city of restless, lonely people leading lives of quiet desperation in shabby apartments, fluorescent-lit cafés and on deserted street corners. Days was also Wong Kar-Wai's first collaboration with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and Doyle's careful compositions, broody close-ups and moody lighting enhance the bittersweet, elusive quality of the film.
Days focuses on a half-dozen intersecting characters, with Yuddy (Leslie Cheung), a handsome, shallow lothario, as the catalyst. The opening scenes in which a bored, bemused Yuddy picks up Su Lizen (Maggie Cheung) are like watching a cruel game. He tells her that she'll always remember this one precise innocuous minute that they've shared together -- and indeed she does.
She's with Yuddy briefly, before dropping him. Yuddy moves on to Mimi (Carina Lau), a brash showgirl. Yet Su Lizen still pines for Yuddy, and her vigils outside his apartment are noted by a sympathetic cop, Tide (Any Lau). Yuddy's adoring friend Zeb (Jacky Cheung) sees the vulnerability beneath Mimi's hard exterior, but she continues to fling herself at the increasingly remote Yuddy. Throughout, Yuddy's adoptive mother, his boozy prostitute aunt, supports his layabout lifestyle in the hopes of earning his filial love.
Each character is cursed with an unrequited desire, even the self-absorbed and emotionless Yuddy, who grows fixated to the point of self-destruction on reclaiming his biological mother. If love is elusive, so too are memories -- and just what power and meaning they hold. The minute that Yuddy cavalierly predicted that Si Lizen would never forget torments the timid girl, but a recollection of this moment also returns at an unlikely juncture to pierce the hearts of both Tide and Yuddy.
In some respect, Wong Kar-Wai's characters are tough people to care for -- our time with them is fleeting and their individual obtuseness is somewhat maddening. Yet, through Wong's languid pace and his carefully layered construction of this sad roundelay, their humanity is slowly defined, like the steady drip-drip-drip of the rain, through life's tiny, but unforgettable moments of pain. In Cantonese with subtitles.