Thursday, 30 August 2007

Days of Being Wild (1990)

Chinese title: True Memoirs of Ah Fei.

The Chinese name 'Ah Fei' (阿飞 or 阿飛) is very rich in meaning to Cantonese speakers (a dialect WKW, and HK locals speak).

Days of Being Wild (1990)
'Ah' (阿) is simply a Chinese intimate term of address. If your name is 'John', I'll call you Ah John to promote closeness.

'Fei' (飞) is a word loaded with meaning.

'Fei' is Cantonese slang for hoodlum or hooligan. Somebody who has little regards for social norms and rules. Punk, riff-raff. It's used in such terms as "Fei Tsai", "Lo Fei", "Fei Nu" (meaning punk, old punk, punk gal).

The 2nd meaning of 'fei' is 'to fly' or 'flying'. Perhaps this is the original derivation of the Cantonese slang for hoodlum - i.e. somebody who flies in the face of lives, somebody who's not grounded, somebody who has no roots, somebody who lives in the fast lanes (thus in flying speed). This describes 'Ah Fei' or Jack our central character very well. The metaphor of a bird with no legs - which Ah Fei describes himself - is already implied in his name. Somebody who drifts (or flies) from place to place without stopping.

The 3rd use of the word 'fei' could be found in such situation as if I dump my girl friend, I would say, I 'fei' her. That's what Ah Fei loves to do, 'flying' or 'fei-ing' girls. An equivalent English term would be 'flick' - give the girls the flicks.

The general usage of the word has the sense of leaving, rejecting, removing, or excluding something. The opposite of attachment, connection, adding, or inclusion.

All these connotations - hoodlum, flying, dumping romantic relationship, sever ties - are all captured in that Chinese title name. This is a pretty good example of something is lost in translation. With an English title like Days of Being Wild, which has absolutely no shades of meaning. Too bad. All the richness is being 'fei-ed' by translation, leaving only a dry empty husk.

In short, 'Ah Fei' lives up to his name. And the cultural study of the semantics of this title name would give a full understanding of the complex central character of this film. In short, you come up with the name, you get your central character.

English speakers needn't feel bad for the lost of translation because the word 'Fei' is very Cantonese, and colloquial. The rest of 1.3 billion Chinese (minus a sadly increasingly declining number of Cantonese speakers in Guangdong province) couldn't grasp the meaning and subtleties of the word.

This is WKW's 2nd feature after As Tears Go By made 2 years earlier. The structures of the 2 stories are similar. I.e. a life of a character living in the fringe of society is cut short at the end, and doomed romance(s) in between. But the devil is in the details embedded in the structures.

In this story, the love interests are twice as rich,. While our main protagonist York ('Ah Fei') has 2 love interests, he also has 2 mothers. The 2 lovers are polar opposites: 1 is a shy girl working in a quiet local corner store, and the other is sprightly girl working in a rowdy cabaret. The ways the 2 broken hearted girls also handle their rejections in opposite ways. One is through acceptance, and the other denial (at least in the film. Mimi is still in denial right until the very end).

Similarly, his 2 mothers - 1 biological and the other adoptive - are polar opposites in background: 1 is an aristocrat and the other prostitute (also the aristocrat is from the Philippines - big fish in small pond, and the prostitute is from Shanghai - small fish in a big pond). One rejects him, one raises him. You could say York has a noble birth, but lowly existence for the rest of his life. That unresolved psychological conflicts lead him to a life of emotional, and ultimately physical destruction (i.e. breaking hearts and taking lives). As he explains near the end of the movie, if he's a bird without legs, that bird is already dead when he's born. His life of destruction of other lives leads to his self destruction. His death wish is thus fulfilled.

There're also other parallels in terms of production. Jacky Cheung, Maggie Cheung and Andy Lau are in both movies. And Andy Lau is a gangster in the last, a cop in this film. Jacky Cheung played similar roles in both - a support role to the main characters in both movies.

There're dualities, parallels like these that one can draw comparisons and make speculations till the cow comes home. No, the actors WKW chose to play in his movies aren't coincidental. In the closing scene, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai plays a character that seems to have nothing to do with the movie. That's true. The closing scene serves as a prelude to his future film In the Mood for Love (2000), as well as his futuristic film 2046 as 3 parts of an informal trilogy.

And yes, Maggie Cheung, played the same character Su Li-Zhen in this and the 2nd part of the trilogy, In the Mood for Love.

Here's more clues WKW dropped into this movie regarding his future - or I should say futuristic - film. The hotel room Tide stays in is 204. What about the important date that has been mentioned a few times in the movie - 04/16/1960? The 4 digits that seem to appear over and over are 2, 0, 4, 6 - the title of his futuristic film. Did he plan this? Or did he simply make use of something in the past for his later films? Only he and God knows.

There's no question that WKW arts is heavily influenced by Latino culture from the music to the Philippines, and to his later film Happy Together, which takes place in Argentina.

While the story structures of his 1st 2 movies are similar, but he replaced a lot of actions and violence in his last film with artistic dialogues and situations in this one. This is the general evolving trend in WKW's movies to be 1 of the most notable and the very few art-house directors in HK film industry.

One of the many factors that made WKW films a success - critically, not commercially - is what we would call characters driven story (not that the plot sucks. But it isn't the important focus). All the characters are given a fair share to breath in their own spaces.

This WKW 2nd movie, which also begun his career long collaboration with his camera man Christopher Doyle, marks the start of his career of making almost exclusively art-house movies.

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