Still from Days of Being Wild
Before his introduction to tonight’s screening of Wong Kar-Wai’s Days of Being Wild, IU Chancellor Michael A. McRobbie shares a preview of his remarks on the lush, woozy cinema of Wong and his acclaimed Love Trilogy.
I am delighted to say a few words about the three films that are part of this semester’s McRobbie’s Choice film series — films that comprise director Wong Kar-Wai’s enchanting and emotionally charged “Love Trilogy” and include the first film in the series, Days of Being Wild.
Wong Kar-Wai’s work has left an indelible mark on the film world. His storytelling, visual style, and exploration of the complexities of the human heart have earned him a well-deserved place in the pantheon of great filmmakers.
NPR pop-culture and film critic John Powers writes, “There are many good filmmakers in the world, but only a handful — including Jean-Luc Godard, David Lynch, Abbas Kiarostami, and Hou Hsiao-hsien — possess a sensibility so strong that their name immediately conjures up a whole way of seeing. Wong Kar-Wai belongs to that rarefied company. One can instantly recognize his films,” Powers continues, “by their rootless heroes grappling with love and loneliness, their ticking clocks and restless bodies, their refracted fashion-shoot surfaces and deep-seated melancholy, their warping of genres and blurring of the line between reality and dream.”
Born in Shanghai, Wong emigrated to Hong Kong as a child with his family. He began his career as a screenwriter for TV series, soap operas, and films before transitioning to directing with his debut, the 1988 crime drama As Tears Go By. Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman wrote that the film “announced the presence of a genuine Hong Kong new wave — as well as an ambitious cineaste.”
Wong went on to a directorial career that has set him apart as a masterful storyteller who consistently pushes the boundaries of the medium. In his 1994 film Chungking Express, Wong’s innovative use of handheld camera work and pop music creates a sensory experience that perfectly captures the restlessness of the city and the ephemeral nature of love. The following year, Wong released Fallen Angels, a spiritual companion to Chungking Express that delves even more deeply into the nocturnal world of Hong Kong. For his 1997 film Happy Together, Wong earned the Best Director award at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.
His work is also notable for his collaborations with the industry’s finest talent. His enduring partnership with the legendary Australian-born cinematographer Christopher Doyle has produced some of the most visually stunning films ever created. I should add on a personal note that I have visited Hong Kong, where many of Wong’s films are set, many times over the past 40 years and it has been one of my favorite cities in the world. It has never been more beautifully filmed than it is by Doyle, capturing the stunning beauty of the city as few have. Whether its unique character can survive the recent political changes there is yet to be seen.
The films screened in this semester’s series comprise a cinematic masterpiece: Wong Kar-Wai’s “Love Trilogy.” These three iconic, interrelated films are a testament to Wong’s ability to capture the complexities of human relationships with unparalleled depth and sensitivity. The trilogy begins, of course, with 1990’s Days of Being Wild and is followed by In the Mood for Love and concludes with 2046. These films stand alone as works of art but share common themes and motifs, weaving a rich tapestry of emotions, love, and longing.
The second installment, In the Mood for Love, is arguably one of Wong Kar-Wai’s most celebrated works. Set in 1960s Hong Kong, it revolves around two neighbors who discover their spouses’ infidelity. The film is remarkable for its ability to convey the deepest of emotions through minimal dialogue. It is a testament to Wong’s mastery of visual storytelling, with lush cinematography, evocative music, and stunning performances.
The trilogy’s final installment, 2046, serves as both a continuation and a reflection on the themes explored in the previous two films. Set in the future and the past, it is a visually mesmerizing and emotionally resonant exploration of love’s enduring impact. Wong’s use of nonlinear narrative and vivid cinematography is once again on full display, creating a film that is as intellectually stimulating as it is emotionally engaging.
The “Love Trilogy” represents a journey through the complexities of love and relationships, from the wild and reckless to the restrained and unspoken. Wong’s signature style, characterized by its vivid visuals, atmospheric music, and richly drawn characters, creates an immersive experience that invites audiences to delve into the profound and often tumultuous emotions that define our lives.
Days of Being Wild introduces us to a world of romantic turbulence set against the backdrop of 1960s Hong Kong. It is a poetic and poignant meditation on the fleeting nature of love and the melancholy of unfulfilled desires. Wong originally conceived the film as part of a diptych. After the film’s disappointing performance at the box office, he shelved the second installment. In retrospect, scholars have grouped the film with In the Mood For Love and 2046 as part of an informal trilogy.
Days of Being Wild takes its name from the translated title of Rebel Without a Cause when that film was screened in Hong Kong theaters. Film critic Jordan Adler maintains that Days of Being Wild is Wong’s most visually restrained film, writing, “There is a drab, green color scheme throughout that rarely shifts, but situates the characters within the misty rainforest setting that appears at the start.”
Cinematographer Chris Doyle has observed the challenges Wong faced in scouting locations for the film. Wong was on a quest to find places in Hong Kong that could capture the essence of his youth. This proved to be an impossible task because the city was constantly evolving and undergoing redevelopment. As a result, Days of Being Wild unfolds in a realm suspended in time and space. In this strangely unpopulated Hong Kong, no background extras traverse the scenes, no advertisements adorn the walls, and little more than empty Coke bottles stock the store where two main characters meet.
The cast includes some of Hong Kong’s most popular stars of the time, and Wong worked with them in numerous subsequent films. Pop singer Leslie Cheung delivers an iconic performance as Yuddy, the handsome lothario. Maggie Cheung, who plays Su Lizhen, is arguably the director’s muse. Singer and matinee idol Andy Lau gives a memorable performance as Tide, the policeman turned sailor and confidant of Su Lizhen.
Given its star-studded cast, the film’s box-office gross was considered a disappointment, but it gained instant critical acclaim, winning five Hong Kong Film awards, including Best Director and Best Actor. The film ranked third on the Hong Kong Film Awards Association’s 2005 list of The Best 100 Chinese Motion Pictures.
Wong Kar-Wai’s films remind us of the power of cinema to move us and to explore the beauty in the everyday. His work will continue to inspire and resonate with audiences for generations to come.
 John Powers and Wong Kar-wai, The Cinema of Wong Kar Wai, (Rizzoli, 2016), 12.
 J. Hoberman, “As Tears Go By: Wong Kar-wai’s First Moody Move,” The Village Voice, April 29, 2008, Web, Accessed October 25, 2023, URL: https://www.villagevoice.com/as-tears-go-by-wong-kar-wais-first-moody-move/.
 Jordan Adler, “The Essentials: Days of Being Wild,” The Balcony, November 15, 2013, Web, Accessed October 25, 2023, URL: https://thebalconyisopen.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/the-essentials-days-of-being-wild-1990/.
Days of Being Wild will be screened at IU Cinema tonight, November 3, at 7pm as part of the Michael A. McRobbie’s Choice series, followed by In the Mood for Love on November 10 and 2046 on November 17.
Michael A. McRobbie served as the 18th president of Indiana University from 2007 to 2021. Prior to stepping down from the IU presidency, he was among the country’s longest-serving presidents of a major public research university. He was appointed university chancellor in 2021, making him only the third person to be appointed to this position in IU’s 200-year history. Learn more about Chancellor McRobbie’s work here.