A fei zheng chuan – Days of Being Wild

Hong Kong, 1990

Directed by Wong Kar-wai

With Leslie Cheung (Yuddie), Maggie Cheung (Su Li-zhen), Carina Lau (Leung Fung-ying), Rebecca Pan (Rebecca), Jacky Cheung (Zeb), Andy Lau (Tide)

Yuddie is something of a playboy. He lives alone in a cozy and rather large flat, is incredibly attractive and aware of it and doesn’t work as his mother Rebecca pays for whatever he wishes. This is convenient for him, since he does not like to work, but also for Rebecca, for she fears he could abandon her, and she needs him even more as she is actually not his natural mother. The story is that she adopted the newborn son of her sister who was not interested in motherhood and left Hong Kong with her acquiescing companion.

The yearn to meet her real mother drives Yuddie into an increasingly acrimonious confrontation with Rebecca, which even includes a fist fight with the gigolo she lives with, and ends up with a travel in the Philippines. As he tries to wrest the information from her aunt, he seduces two young ladies, first a demure employee of the soccer stadium, Su Li-zhen, and then a feisty go-go dancer, Leung Fung-ying, aka Mimi. Both affairs end abruptly, leaving the two women dejected and helpless. Su chooses to confide to a policeman on the beat, Tide, but this relationship will not last as the fellow starts a career as sailor; Mimi, on the other hand, would try to chase Yuddie down in the Philippines.

This is a linear narrative told with a rather cold lighting and frequent close-ups. Although sequences can incorporate an odd slanted shot on a detail, the camerawork is tamed and straight, especially when it is compared to the later movies of Wong Kar-wai. The drama plays out mainly inside small places, though the finale in the Philippines offers a wider view and more spectacular shoots; all loci reflect the atmosphere of the early 1960s, the time when the story occurs.

Set in another time, “A fei zheng chuan – Days of Being Wild” is concerned with the flow of time, moments and memories. A trick Yuddie uses to charm Su is to show her a hand of his wristwatch moving till a full minute has passed and to claim he will not forget this minute they spend together (rather unwillingly on her part). The end proves he did not, but the women he left are no longer impressed by his memory but obsessed with their ability to forget or to remember him, while other characters try to manage the time as it diminishes their ambitions: staying attractive in the case of Rebecca (which leads her to throw herself in the arms of the gigolo Yuddie bitterly fights), changing his life in the case of Tide (who patrols the streets as he can’t leave her mom alone; only her death enables him to quit his job), seducing Mimi in the case of Zeb, Yuddie’s best friend (and in fact his only one the film shows). All experience a harrowing sense of inadequacy in the face of the events thrown upon them (which eventually signal a complete failure) and solitude often looks like the only course waiting for them.

These difficulties fill the movie with a deep-seated sadness which are obviously stoked by Yuddie’s quest for both his origins and a better grasp on his life. Unable and unwilling to fly with his own wings and irresponsible when it comes to love and respect women, even from his kin, he meets a tragic and preposterous death in the Philippines when his penchant for shady deals make him take too great a risk. Yet his nonchalant bearing and unsatisfied persona suggest more compassion than contempt; his fate dovetails with the overall melancholy and sense of inadequacy this narrative conveys through wonderfully composed and lighted shots. Yuddie comes across as a poignant character, standing as a lonely soul unable to love; the movie seems an elegiac portrait of people unfairly tricked by life and time. In his case, beauty, however real it is, and even if it is duly groomed (that image of Yuddie always carefully combing his mane), is not a solace, but a misleading attraction leading to nothingness. In the case of the movie, however, the beauty of the cinematography and of the actors is a source of a genuine visual and sentimental pleasure opening a new horizon.

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