In the culture of Hong Kong pop cinema of the eighties and nineties, Wong Kar-Wai is a maverick. As directors like Tsui Hark, John Woo, and Johnnie To were reinventing action movies and big screen spectacle with whooshing camerawork, dynamic editing, and action exploding all over the frame, Wong was casting the stars of those films in more intimate and impressionistic films with woozy color, dancing camerawork, and jagged editing, appropriating music video stylings for arthouse films with a pop sensibility.
Days of Being Wild (1990), Wong’s second feature, follows a half dozen characters and their wandering lives in 1960s Hong Kong. Pop singer and heartthrob matinee idol Leslie Cheung is all narcissism and insolence as a lothario who seduces lonely shop girl Maggie Cheung (who Wong helped elevate from popular movies to serious drama) and sneering, shallow showgirl Carina Lau. Andy Lau (another pop singer turned matinee idol) is the cop who watches over Cheung, Jacky Cheung (best known as a comic actor) is bittersweet as a sweet-natured idiot and Leslie’s doting best friend, and Rebecca Pan plays Leslie’s aging, alcoholic foster mom, who holds on to her “son” by withholding the name of his real mother.
Wong named the film after the title that Rebel Without a Cause (1955) received for its Chinese release. “Rebel Without a Cause in Chinese becomes “our faith,” which is a term that was used very typically in the sixties about kids like James Dean, or kids who imitated James Dean,” explained Wong in a 1998 interview. The title was not a reference to the original film but to the era of the sixties.
Plays on Turner Classic Movies on Monday, November 25