World of Wong Kar Wai
Days of Being Wild
With his lush and sensual visuals, pitch-perfect soundtracks, and soulful romanticism, Wong Kar Wai has established himself as one of the defining auteurs of contemporary cinema. Joined by such key collaborators as cinematographer Christopher Doyle; editor and production and costume designer William Chang Suk Ping; and actors Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung Man Yuk, Wong (or WKW, as he is often known) has written and directed films that have enraptured audiences and critics worldwide and inspired countless other filmmakers with their poetic moods and music, narrative and stylistic daring, and potent themes of alienation and memory. Whether they’re tragically romantic, soaked in blood, or quirkily comedic, the seven films collected here are an invitation into the unique and wistful world of a deeply influential artist.
The second dual-layer disc in Criterion’s World of Wong Kar Wai box set presents Days of Being Wild in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Like the other films in the set it has been given a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode and is sourced from a new 4K restoration. The notes state all of the restorations were scanned from the 35mm original negatives.
Though this one has its “issues,” just like the rest of the films in the set, it probably offers one of the better overall presentations in that it actually looks like a film. The film’s grain level is pretty heavy, but it’s handled mostly well; there are times where it can appear blocky, but in general it’s clean and has a more natural look. This in turn leads to a sharper level of detail, with finer textures coming through better in comparison to the previous film in the set, As Tears Go By, the stand-out sequence probably being that Steadicam shot near the end.
Though the restoration work has cleaned things up rather well, there is one very glaring alteration here: the film is very green. To a degree this is intentional, and both Wong and director of photography Christopher Doyle go over this in a number of archival interviews throughout the set. Though it came about by accident, at least according to Doyle, they did go for a greenish, monochromatic look for the film, applying a green filter while shooting, and it’s a look they would carry over to their later work in one way or another. You can also see this in an alternate edit of the film that has been included on this disc. What’s different here is that this aspect has been digitally altered and the green has been pumped up to a rather ridiculous degree, to where it may even outdo The Matrix. Where the original filters at least appear organic to the photography, even magically lending a bit to the film’s period feel, the digital enhancement ends up coming off artificial, giving it a more modern look and undermining the effect. Interestingly, two sequences actually drop the green (or severely tone it down at least), one sequence being a flashback and another near the end showing what’s happened with one of the film’s characters.
Depending on how one feels about that change to the film’s appearance, the good news is that this alteration, at the very least, doesn’t seem to negatively impact the digital presentation itself. Black levels are still quite good, crushing never being an issue, and shadow detail is still excellent. The modifications may be questionable, but I still found the digital presentation itself to be a solid one, and one of the better ones in the set.
Like the previous film, this one also comes with a lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtrack. This one is a bit more dynamic than what As Tears Go By offered, music sounding sharper and cleaner and voices having some actual heft behind them. But it’s still a fairly basic mono presentation.
The films on this set are presented in altered ways, from slight to extreme, and one of its short-comings is that in most cases previous versions of the films have not been included, which has been an especially touchy subject when it comes to Fallen Angels. I figure this is Wong deciding this is how he wants the film to be and wants to nullify his previous versions ala George Lucas. Yet oddly this disc ends up presenting an alternate version of Days of Being Wild, one that’s apparently rare and has never appeared on video before.
The reasons for this edit’s existence is not clearly explained in the notes for this feature, but the other extras on the disc explain that a sequel was planned for the film during the initial development phase only to have it cancelled during production. Though I’m not sure why it still exists if the planned sequel was scrapped, this alternate edit was supposed to lead in to that sequel. Taken from a theatrical print with burned in subtitles (and in very rough shape), the edit isn’t a severe re-edit and plays out mostly the same as the main edit found on the disc, the differences being more obvious during the opening and closing of the film. The opening actually references the closing of the film before getting to Maggie Cheung’s introduction (which is edited a little differently), and the climax, after the confrontation at the train station, is edited in a very different manner, even using shots/scenes not in the version included in the final edit, with one character receiving a completely different send-off, I suspect to prepare for the planned sequel. The rest of the film has some slightly different edits, a few shots running a little shorter (like the follow-up around one character attempting to visit their birth mother), and some different/altered music cues, but ultimately it’s not too different.
While I appreciate the inclusion (especially if this edit is rare) it is, ultimately, a bizarre one since Wong doesn’t include any alternate versions for the other films in the set, and it’s not one I see anybody ever coming back to, which may be the point. It’s really just a curiosity in the end.
That ends up being the big feature here and the rest ends up being a little underwhelming. There’s an 11-minute excerpt from a discussion with director of photography Christopher Doyle filmed in 2005 at the National Film Theatre in London, where he talks a little about Days of Being Wild. He speaks over a couple of sequences from the film, the closing and the film’s Steadicam shot (which Criterion has edited over those sequences in the film), but his thoughts, rather disappointingly, prove to be a little useless since it’s him just sporadically recalling how he had to move the camera around in a tight space while also pointing at the obvious. It’s more informative when he’s just generally talking about the look of the film, explaining how it came about. This is then followed by a short 4-minute audio interview with actor Maggie Cheung, recorded for the BFI in 1994, where she talks a little about the film and mentions the planned sequel that never happened.
The disc then closes with the film’s trailer. Though the two interviews are fine and the inclusion of the alternate cut is an interesting one, they’re still a pretty sparse set of features that barely even scrape the surface of the film.
Though the supplements again disappoint, the digital presentation at least comes off looking good, despite the extreme alterations found in the film’s colours.