House Logo

Days Of Being Wild (#110 of 2)

The Conversations: Wong Kar-wai

Comments Comments (...)

The Conversations: Wong Kar-wai
The Conversations: Wong Kar-wai

Jason Bellamy: “When did everything start to have an expiration date?” That’s a question posed by a lovelorn cop in Wong Kar-wai’s 1994 film Chungking Express, and in a sense that line is a snapshot of what Wong’s films are all about. In the 20 years and change that Wong has been directing, he’s developed several signature flourishes that make his films instantly recognizable—from his striking use of deep, rich colors, to his affinity for repetitive musical sequences, to his judicious use of slow motion for emotional effect, and many more—but at the core of Wong’s filmography is an acute awareness of passing time and a palpable yearning for things just out of reach. In the line above, the cop in Chungking Express is ostensibly referring to the expiration dates on cans of pineapple, which he’s using to mark the days since his girlfriend dumped him, but in actuality he’s referring to that failed relationship, to his (somewhat) fleeting youth (he’s approaching his 25th birthday) and to the deadline he has created for his girlfriend to reconsider and take him back. In the cop’s mind, at least, whether they will be together has as much to do with when as with why. Or put more simply: if timing isn’t everything, it’s a lot of it.

That theme pops up again and again in Wong’s films. Roger Ebert zeroed in on it in his 2001 review of Wong’s In the Mood for Love when he observed of the two lead characters, “They are in the mood for love, but not in the time or place for it.” While that’s particularly true of Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan, it could readily be applied to almost all of Wong’s lead characters. In this conversation we’re going to discuss Days of Being Wild (1990), Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love (2000), 2046 (2004) and My Blueberry Nights (2007), and over and over again we’ll see characters united by emotion but kept apart by timing. So I’d like to open by asking you the following: Do the recurring themes of Wong’s body of work strengthen the potency and poetry of the individual films or water them down? Put another way, are Days of Being Wild and Chungking Express enhanced by In the Mood for Love and 2046 or obliterated by them, or are they not significantly affected one way or the other?

Review: Days of Being Wild

Comments Comments (...)

Review: <em>Days of Being Wild</em>
Review: <em>Days of Being Wild</em>

For some, 2007’s My Blueberry Nights confirmed a lurking suspicion that Wong Kar-wai—one of the rare celebrity directors in contemporary art cinema—was always an emperor with no clothes. Landing on our shores serving clichés of Americana instead of eye-popping images of urban Asia, the film at its worst came off as self-parody, as if it were exposing a shallowness in his work that had previously been masked by subtitles. If Wong’s career can be divided before and after 2000’s In the Mood for Love on the basis of that film’s aesthetic ambitions and the heightened international recognition it earned him, then the first real dud of his career seemed to bring this exciting new chapter to a screeching halt. And if last year’s retooled Ashes of Time comforted us with evidence of his past, precocious mastery, the recycled material also made it appear that his well of ideas had finally run dry.

So it looks like the WKW brand-name in erotic longing might be losing its edge. But even if an artist’s reputation is subject to such lapses, sometimes it is an audience’s job to refresh its memory and return to the source. 1990’s Days of Being Wild, the sophomore effort that established wandering souls and romantic misconnection as Wong’s enduring fetish subjects, still reverberates with some of the most haunting passages in any Hong Kong movie—and of course it is this colonial city, as much as the ache of love itself, that provides the cause for swooning.