"I thought I had run up against the Real Deal last week in the UCSD International Style series.... The movie was entitled Days of Being Wild, the second effort by Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai and featuring some of the same big box-office names (Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung) featured in the recent Festival Hong Kong at the Ken. [Where, you might have guessed, Days of Being Wild has been booked for the coming week, starting Friday.]
"It paints a portrait of an indolent, amoral, apathetic lady-killer and his poisonous milieu (ca. 1960), all lacquered over with a scummy green monochrome. (I generally don't like monochromes, but I have seen a lot of reds, browns, yellows, and blues, not a lot of greens.) Wong's camera is both very close and very mobile: overfamiliar, nosy, nuzzling, liberty-taking. And although the focus tends to be extremely shallow, the impression is of great precision (e.g., only the keys in clear, not the hand that holds them). Every now and then the camera removes itself to a startling high angle or low angle, as if to break free and regain some perspective. There are brief bits of voice-over narration from varying characters: another startling way to shift the perspective. And everything is uniformly, seamlessly cinematic: the incidental detail, the ambient sound, the kinetic cutting, the musical counterpoint. All of it proclaims an assured and audacious stylist. I had not been so pleased to be introduced to a new moviemaker since I made the acqaintance of Hou Hsiao-hsien.
"And then suddenly it all went to pieces: abruptness, choppiness, sensationalism, incoherence. (A different man entirely was credited as Action Director, so maybe it was out of Wong's hands.) The total experience left me confused and frustrated, but the three-quarter or four-fifth experience was marvelous while it lasted. And now I have a new name to remember."
On rereading, or anyhow retyping, this, it all sounds reasonably accurate, except that (a) Tony Leung is actually Leslie Cheung, though not the Leslie Cheung who was in Wong's In the Mood for Love; (b) the going-to-pieces fraction is somewhat smaller than I estimated, more like one-sixth; and (c) I would appear to have made too much of the green monochrome. I have two possible explanations for that. One is that there could have been something a bit off about the print at UCSD. The other, and more probable, is that the color may have been tinkered with, readjusted, "corrected," for the film's reissue. (The color now looks a little soft, a little powdery.) Of course I know better than to trust my own memory, yet I must trust what I wrote when the memory was new. Be that as it may, I think I am permitted to pat myself on the back for my quick recognition of a true talent. Five films later, I don't place Wong on the same level with Hou, but I put him within hollering distance.
Today, the Tenth, signals the kickoff at Hazard Center of the eleven-day San Diego Latino Film Festival, which currently I think of as our most festive film festival, celebrating Hispanic language, culture, community, and thereby lightening some of the burden on the films themselves to celebrate cinema. With those, you're on your own. (Go to www.sdlatinofilm.com.) I did look at the first few minutes of half a dozen screeners, plenty of time to reassure myself that the best place to see movies is in a theater. The Brazilian film, The Man Who Copied, which I stayed with for a good fifteen minutes, looked especially promising. This year's festival continues last year's innovation of a Guest Director, replacing Arturo Ripstein with Luis Mandoki, whose credentials as a Latino filmmaker, outside of his Mexican origins, are less convincing: Trapped, Angel Eyes, Message in a Bottle, When a Man Loves a Woman, et al. He will be represented in the festival, however, by an authentic Spanish-language feature, Voces Inocentes, or Innocent Voices, on the Salvadoran civil war of the mid-Eighties; and he also, like Ripstein, has been invited to curate three films of personal importance to him. Although The Battle of Algiers was recirculated just this past year, it will be good to have Masaki Kobayashi's The Human Condition: No Greater Love (Part One of a massive anti-war trilogy) and Luchino Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers back on a big screen. As usual, if thankfully a little less than usual, the festival will overlap with the NCAA basketball tournament, a/k/a The Big Dance, presenting the always tough choice between art and life.