Netflix has been aggressively suggesting that I watch Days of Being Wild (1991), Wong Kar Wai’s first movie, for roughly 2 years. I’ve succumbed to them a number of times, only to fall asleep within 5 minutes of the opening.
Last week, however, I watched it in full. Having a big TV is conducive to staying awake, because rather than watching movies on my tiny MAC in bed, I watch them on the couch with a plethora of sugary snacks. I eat a popsicle, my blood sugar levels spike. I feel high with joy. They valley, I start to nod off. So I eat another popsicle. Ad infinitum.
I’ve been kind of loathe to invest time in Days of Being Wild, which means that it is a third tier choice kind of program. The first tier is shows that I’m obsessed with—currently Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and Veep. The second tier is 30-minute comedies like 30 Rock and Modern Family, which are easy to stream and process if you’ve taken an Ambien. I can watch like 4 episodes of 30 Rock on Ambien, and then be like, holy shit, I’m still awake, did I hallucinate that? And the third tier is Netflix suggestions, which are to Ambien what carbolic acid is to a face. They maximize the substance’s destructive results.
I always knew that if I wasn’t on drugs, I would probably really enjoy Days of Being Wild. I’m a real sucker for atmospheric Asian films that make me nostalgic for street food, and this is one of the first of that type of genre.
It’s about Yuddy, a man who is raised by a prostitute, only to find out that she’s not his real mother. Angered, he takes it out on his two lovers—the shy shop girl Shu Lizhen, and the showgirl Mimi.
Along the way, they find out many things about themselves, and spend a lot of time drinking from small glasses and wandering the streets of Hong Kong.
Or at least that’s how Netflix describes the movie (minus the drinking from small glasses part), because really, it’s just a bunch of hastily cut-together vignettes about falling in and out of love, sporadically punctured by yelling, sleeping, and making love.
“China wasn’t so bad under Communism,” I thought to myself, watching Mimi fan herself on a balcony, her shoulders exposed, her bosom sweating.
Then I remember that Hong Kong wasn’t in China, technically, and also, I’m watching a fucking movie.
Eventually, Yuddy leaves Hong Kong to go to Macau or Singapore, or some other small island with capital punishment, to find his Mommy. There, he gets stabbed for some unclear reason. Right before he dies, he decides that out of all of the women he loved during his tender few years, he loved Shu Lizhen—whose heart he broke absolutely—the most.
I understand why, because Shu Lizhen, played by the phenomenal Maggie Cheung, was the most beautiful. Also, Mimi, I think, on top of being a showgirl, might also have been a whore.
The idea of looking back at your death, and being able to quantify—and rank—your passions is the theme that ties the whole movie together.
It’s poignant for me. I often look forward to the moment when I have distance enough to see my life for what it was.
You spend so much of your time questioning yourself, and wondering what might have been with someone else. But in the moment that you expire, you have to make a final call, and no matter how unrequited a love may have been, you no longer have to qualify it. It can finally be of the utmost importance.
First movies are usually messy—meaning choppily edited and lacking in cohesive structure—but in their imperfectness, can be very beautiful. It’s like, I have no idea what the fuck is going on in Mean Streets, but after I watch it, I’m completely in love with Robert Deniro, and also, I kind of wish I could time travel back to Little Italy in the 1970s. Even if it sprawls, it still touches me. Days of Being Wild is decidedly that.