Ahfei Zheng Zhuan
AHFEI ZHENG ZHUAN
(Days of Being Wild)
Hong Kong, 1991
Director: Wong Kai-Wai
Production: In-Gear Film; Colour, 35mm; running time: 94 minutes.
Producer: Rover Tang; executive producer: Alan Tang; screenplay: Wong Kai-Wai; photography: Christopher Doyle; editor: Kai Kit-wai; assistant directors: Rosanna Ng, Johnny Kong, Tung Wan-Wai, Tsui Pui-Wing, Poon Kin-Kwan; production design: William Chang Suk-ping; sound: Steve Chan Wai-hung; music: Chan Do-ming.
Cast: Leslie Cheung (Yuddy); Maggie Cheung (Su Li-zhen); Tony Leung Chiu-wei (Smirk); Karina Lau (Leong Fung-yung); Andy Lau (Tide); Jacky Cheung (Sab); Rebecca Pan Dihua (Rebecca); Carina Lau (Mimi).
Awards: Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor (Leslie Cheung), Best Cinematographer, and Best Art Director.
James, Caryn, "Days of Being Wild," The New York Times, 23 March 1991.
Variety (New York), 1 April 1991.
Ho, Sam, "The Withering Away of the Family," The 15th Hong Kong International Film Festival (catalogue), May 1991.
Shu, Kei, "Notes on Hong Kong Cinema 1990," The 15th Hong Kong International Film Festival (catalogue), May 1991.
Rayns, T., Sight and Sound (London), December 1994.
Lehtinen, L., "Katoamatonta aikaa tekemassa," in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 5, 1996.
Stephens, C. "Wong Kar-Wai and the Persistence of Memory," in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1996.
Jousse, T., "Boy Meets Girl," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1996.
Niogret, H., "Nos annees sauvages," in Positif (Paris), March 1996.
Morsiani, A., "I capolavori di Hong Kong," in Segnocinema (Vicenza), July/August 1996.
* * *
A young man strolls down a corridor, stops at a refreshment stand, and takes a bottle of Coke from an ice chest. He leans over the counter and catches the attention of the sales clerk, telling her, quite casually, "From this moment on, we can become one-minute friends."
They turn their faces to the wall clock and watch the second hand scroll over the markers. One, two, three, four, five seconds . . . sixty seconds pass.
Soon they become lovers. They meet for an hour each day in his apartment, sharing aimless conversation, and cigarettes.
Wong Kar-wai's desultory tale of 1960s Hong Kong has a nostalgic and bittersweet lyricism. Its antihero is a callow young man, Yuddy (Leslie Cheung), around whom hapless friends and lovers spin. The Chinese title is "The Story of an Ah Fei"—"ah fei" being a Chinese version of a teddy boy.
Cocky and narcissistic, Yuddy is the pretty boy that all the young women fall for, but he never falls for them. As he says, "In this life I will like many, many women, but to the end I won't know whom I love most."
Failing to get any commitment from him, Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung), the sales clerk, threatens to leave. When she walks out, he continues slicking back his hair, gazing placidly into the medicine chest mirror. However, Li-zhen keeps coming back, lurking in corridors and outside the apartment, even after he begins an affair with a pretty dancehall girl, Mimi (Carina Lau). The young policeman who walks the beat (Andy Lau) has noticed the odd goings-on in the second-room flat. Late one night he takes pity on Li-zhen, chatting with her and loaning her cab fare to get home. Before they part he points to a nearby phone booth and remarks, "Every night I'm here at this time."
He waits there night after night, but he never hears from her. One day she leaves town, and eventually, so does he.
Some vague reason for Yuddy's misogyny is provided: Long ago, his real mother gave him over to a friend (played by old time chanteuse Pan Dihua) to raise. And the stepmother, an aging dowager with a penchant for young gigolos, has steadfastly refused to reveal his real mother's identity to Yuddy.
They torment each other with this game constantly. He wants to know; she refuses to tell him. He hates her. And she replies, tartly, "I just want you to hate me, then at least you won't forget me." But one day she tires of the game. She's planning to emigrate, and she finally reveals what he has long wanted to know.
With the information, Yuddy takes off to find his real mother in the Philippines. He goes to her mansion but is refused entrance. He walks quickly away, not giving her the satisfaction (somehow he knows she is watching him from behind) of looking back. In town, he gets drunk and is about to be robbed in the street but a stranger, a man from Hong Kong, comes to his rescue. Unbeknown to Yuddy, this fellow is the policeman who used to walk his street, who has now fulfilled his lifelong dream to become a sailor, and is waiting to join his ship.
The outstanding cinematography is by Christopher Doyle, a frequent collaborator with the Wong Kar-wai, and one the most famous scenes in contemporary Chinese cinema is the long tracking shot towards the end of the film. We travel down a street, go through the doorway of a colonial-style building, and up a stairway into the waiting room of a train station. There we find an inebriated Yuddy posed over a jukebox. He turns away and does a jig. He finds his newfound friend slumped at a table.
Cutting away to the backroom, Yuddy is pulling a scam on a local. When caught, guns are pulled out and people are shot. Yuddy and the sailor make a run for it, over the roofs, jumping into a train headed they know not where.
At this point the sailor says in disgust, "Not everyone's like you— nothing better to do in life!"
The dreamy, tall jungles of Philippines pass by, pass by. "I've heard of bird, a bird without legs, that flies and flies and never lands," says the wounded Yuddy. "It only lands once in his life—and that's when he dies."
The movie ends with a non sequitur in a small, low-ceiled flat, a dapper fellow (Tony Leung Chiu-wei) finishes filing his nails, gets dressed, and tucks cigarettes and a huge wad of bills into his pockets.
He turns off the lights and exits. We have never seen this character before. This is the gambler—who was supposed to feature in part two of Days of Being Wild, but since part one went overtime and overbudget, part two was never made.
Though Days of Being Wild is a pleasure to watch and carries one along its melancholic, fragmented rhythm, one feels a certain emptiness after it's over. The film is more style than substance, favouring mood and mannerisms over plot and characterization.
The work announced Wong as one of the outstanding film stylist to emerge from Hong Kong in this decade. Commercially, it proved a flop, but it won five awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor for Leslie Cheung, Best Cinematographer for Christopher Doyle, and Best Art Direction for William Cheung. On the international film festival circuits, it has become a cult favourite.