Wong Kar-wai’s second feature film is really the first glimpse at what would become something of a trademark style. The film is the director’s first collaboration with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, it features a cast of some of the biggest stars in Chinese cinema, it deals with themes of romantic longing and unrequited love, and it’s all supported by a brilliant and eclectic music selection. It’s a mix that would work brilliantly in films like Chungking Express and In The Mood For Love, but here you get the sense that, apart from his inspired use of Brazilian guitar duo Los Indios Tabajaras, Wong hasn’t quite figured out how to employ everything to the best effect. Leslie Cheung plays Yuddy, an aimless playboy who halfheartedly seduces two women, played by Maggie Cheung and Carina Lau, before carelessly tossing them away in favor of new conquests. For reasons that are never quite made clear, the two women are devastated by his dismissals, so much so that they ignore the clear affections of others that come into their lives. Yuddy’s careless attitude towards relationships is revealed to be a byproduct of a dysfunctional relationship with his adoptive mother, but even with this excuse it’s tough to really sympathize with his character. Not that being sympathetic is absolutely necessary, but Yuddy also isn’t very interesting, which creates a disconnect that isn’t present in Kar’s more successful films.
The film was originally meant to have multiple parts, but due to the low returns on its initial release, the opportunity to continue forward with a direct sequel never materialized. You can still see evidence of Wong’s original intentions, particularly in the final scene, which features a brief appearance by Tony Leung, who had not appeared previously but would have been the main subject of the next film. Nowadays, the film is considered the first in a loosely-defined trilogy, along with In The Mood For Love and 2046, although the connections between the three films aren’t overtly apparent beyond thematic similarities and the recurring appearances of a few characters (I can see 2046 looking different on another viewing; In The Mood For Love has a more self-contained narrative). Days Of Being Wild is for me the least compelling of the three films, serving more as an interesting but uneven introduction to the kind of material that Wong Kar-wai would essentially master in his later work. 5/10.
My viewing of this film has been a long time coming. I bought it as part of a frenzied shopping spree during one of the semiannual Criterion sales at Barnes & Noble a couple years ago, back when I wasn’t worrying too much about how many titles I snatched up at once. But then it sat on my shelf for awhile, for no other reason than I kept forgetting that it was there, my attention preoccupied with other films. Well, after a little less than two years since picking it up, I finally sat down to watch it. And I wish I had watched it sooner, because it’s a damn good film, although admittedly a little different than what I was expecting. What I thought was going to be an action-packed crime film turned out to be more of a character drama than anything else, with a brilliant performance from Robert Mitchum standing front and center. He has a early monologue where he talks about why he has extra knuckles on his hands, and you’re can’t help but be reminded of a similar hand-related speech, the famous tale of Right Hand Left Hand in The Night Of The Hunter. He’s playing a different character here though, not a psychopath but a surprisingly-sympathetic criminal, a working-class family man who relies on his associations with the criminal underworld to generate income, who finds himself in a bind from which he may have no real way out.
The director is Peter Yates, probably best known for Bullitt and its incredible car chase centerpiece. The Friends Of Eddie Coyle doesn’t have any one sequence that replicates the high energy of that famous sequence; the film operates on a lower key, and apart from the staging of two lengthy bank robberies, one successful and one unsuccessful, it relies more on character interactions. Not often would I say that a film needed less action, but interestingly enough that’s the case here. The two bank robberies, while tense and spare and effective, take up a good part of the running length, time that I wouldn’t have minded spending in Mitchum’s company, that’s how good he is. His last-ditch efforts to save himself are heartbreaking, and Mitchum is perfect at conveying a man who knows the end is approaching and who quietly resigns to whatever fate might befall him. When the sudden and bleakly appropriate conclusion comes rolling along, you realize that in the criminal world, the idea of friendship really doesn’t mean all that much, not in a world where everyone is looking out for themselves above anything else. It’s the focus on that quiet recognition that elevates The Friends Of Eddie Coyle above the more typical films of its kind. 9/10.
At a wedding reception, a man and a woman trade glimpses with each other from across the room. He’s played by Aaron Eckhart, he’s there to witness his sister’s marriage, and he recognizes someone across the room who he hasn’t seen for a long time. She’s played by Helena Bonham Carter, and she’s a bridesmaid who took a flight from England to America, with the secret hope to run into him again, even if it’s just for one night. The film will spend the rest of its time watching the two reconnect with each other, as they try to gleam hints of each other’s lives and if there might still be something there between them. It might be too easy of a comparison to make, but director Hans Canosa’s work here is reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Before films (especially the most recent entry Before Midnight), with their almost-exclusive emphasis on the melancholic/romantic conversations and chemistry between two lovers. But where Before Midnight took the stance that, even after many passing years and changing situations and obligations, people are at heart still the same people as they once were, Conversations With Other Women argues a person many years down the road will not be the same person as in the present time (this theme is hinted at in the title of the film; there is only one central woman, but she’s not the same woman as she was many years before).
I probably shouldn’t have made the comparison to the Before films; it’s not really fair to Conversations With Other Women, which has plenty of merits that are distinctly its own, particularly in its unconventional storytelling approach. The entire film is told in split-screen, even though the action is exclusively conversation. Sometimes the two sides will show the same conversation from different angles, with the two characters occasionally occupying the same space but more often than not separated from each other by the break in the middle. Other times the action on one side will cut away, to show either the memories of the characters or an alternate version of a character’s dialogue. At first, I was worried that this technique would end up distracting from the film’s content, but you get used to it quickly and it ends up serving as a nice complement to the points the film is trying to get across. The two characters may be close together, but there is a disconnect between their memories of each other and the people they are now. Handled the wrong way, this stylistic device could have sunk the whole thing, but it comes together quite beautifully. I’m not sure how I managed to overlook this film before, but it deserves to be given a chance. 8/10.
*Many thanks to Jennifer Hughes for the recommendation!