As Tears Go By (Wong Kar-wai, 1988)


Andy Lau (Wah), Maggie Cheung (Ngor), Jacky Cheung (Fly). Screenplay by Jeffrey Lau and Wong Kar-wai. Directed by Wong Kar-wai. Rating: 18. Running time: 102 minutes.

Kar-wai’s debut film, As Tears Go By is far from a paean to the Rolling Stones song it is seemingly named after. There’s no watching children play here. Instead, we’re left observing the criminal encounters of a man trying to protect his younger brother, whilst also juggling an increasingly intimate relationship with his cousin. If a Western influence is insisted upon, it’s Scorsese’s Mean Streets that’s most evidently present. Not only in its strikingly similar content, but in its raw style as well. Both show us the rougher side of their respective cities (New York and Hong Kong), but both also feel so real and cheaply shot, that they are almost like rehearsals for two masters, getting a feel for making films before moving on to better things. There’s hints in the innovative cinematography here of the Wong Kar-wai to come, but ultimately the film fails to strike as strongly as his later efforts do. Whilst brutally open in its use of violence, I’m glad it was the far more interesting sexual aspect of the plot that Kar-wai decided to base the rest of his career around. We know now that he can do that type of film much better, and in doing so he can keep us much more interested than As Tears Go By manages to.

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