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|Index||23 reviews in total|
Wong Kar Wai's debut effort as a feature film director already showcase
flashes of talent from the would-be auteur. ALthough not as groundbreaking
or innovative as some of his better known films (eg. Chungking Express/
Fallen Angels), nevertheless it displayed some of his distinct signature
styles, (eg. naturalistic & idiosyncratic dialogue, character driven
and themes(eg. love,urban environment, world in turmoil and
Obviously inspired by Martin Scorsese's early effort 'Mean Streets', which was in turn partly inspired by 'beat' filmmaker John Cassevetes debut film 'Shadows'; 'As Tears Go by' is 'Mean streets' set in Hong Kong. The harsh depiction of traid and street gang culture is in sharp contrast to the stylish gun-totting hoods from John Woo's 'A Better Tomorrow'. In many ways, Wong's depiction came accross as more bittingly realistic, helped by its many on-location filming (another WKW style). Hong Kong's neon lit streets/dark dingy alleys/fluorescence interiors/late night piers, blended in perfectly with Wong's story set in contemporary urban HK. Very interesting camera work and lighting that is different from the other HK films coming out from that era. It displayed an early WKW visual flare, again evident in Chunking Express and Fallen Angels, which utilizes similar locations and settings, as well as ferentic camera movements and stylised composition. Credit should be due to art director Chang Shu Ping, who collaborated with Wong in all of his subsequent films. Of note too is cinematographer Andrew Lau, who will go on to helm the 'Young & Dangerous' series that bears several visual & subject matter influences from this film.Though I must add that Young & Dangerous portrayal of heroic gansters is more glorifying than Wong's pathetic bloodied characters.
Excellant performances from all three leads, which bagged Jacky CHeung(doing a Robert de niro) the best supporting actor and Andy Lau a nomination for best actor at that year's HK film awards. Maggie Chueng claimed that this was the first time she discovered the true potential of screen acting. Also unforgettable is Alex Man's supporting turn as the most sadistic villian imaginable.
'As Tears go By' is probably the only WKW film that is fully scripted (WOng served as a scriptwriter in other generic HK movies for several years before this effort), and it shows. Some clever and subtle original touches in the first act, that translates Scorsese's tortured characters and ethnic Itlian dispora to local HK flavor and motivations. However, the conflict dragged on by the second act, and the film seems indecisive as whether to focus on the Andy Lau/Maggie Cheung love story arc or on his dillema with his understudy pal Jacky Cheung and their conflict with bad ass Alex Man. Scorsese's 'Mean Streets' works because it manages to stay focus on the main protaganist POV and motivations. The whole film is centered around Harvey Keitel's character, and the other characters serves as his burden to his climb up the mafia ranks. That direction seems lost in Wong's version. The last act/conclusion seems rushed, cliche and definitely predictable. What I suspect, and logically seems plausible, is the interference of the producers and financiers on 'As Tears go by'. WOng had claimed in interviews that his early work was being hampered in many ways by others, hence his firm decision and insistence to be the producer in all his subsequent films. He wants to and achieves total artistic control over all of his later films.
Nevertheless, 'As Tears Go by' is without a doubt a milestone of WOng's career as well as Hong Kong cinema. The visceral on-screen violence, realistc seedy portrayal of HK's underworld and streets locale, and cosmopolitan loves and relationships was never before seen on HK screens during its day. It is preceded only by John Woo's 'A Better Tomorrow', which in many ways is a different kind of film with very different themes. Definitely worth catching for fans of Wong Kar Wai and those who love Hong Kong cinema.
7/10 from me.
No better one day film school can be found in watching "Mean Streets"
and then this.
Superficially they seem the same and Kar-Wai has told us that he patterned this, his first feature after Scorsese's first.
Here's the lesson: Scorsese belongs to a school of thinking where actors create characters, real extreme and powerful characters. These characters literally create the situations around them. The filmmaker's job is to attach the camera to the characters. Nearly all Italian and Italian-American filmmakers believe this. This is fine if you can live on espresso, but most of us in a film life need something to sustain us.
Kar-Wai in his later films is clearly in another camp. He literally starts with no script. He creates a cinematic tone. Into that tone is spun a place and his actors are expected to find their way within it. Only then do we see characters, and the camera is never, ever glued to personalities.
It is a world of difference, as different as people who can talk only about other people contrasted to those who can create another world in a conversation.
Sooner or later, all lucid watchers must make a choice about how big their film universe can be. This was Kar-Wai's beginning. It is hard to see unless you know his later stuff. But it is there, like the pollen in the air.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
Wong Kar-Wai's feature debut is essential viewing for anyone who's been
beguiled by his more recent work, but it is really just a slightly more
existential take on the standard HK gangster pic. It has more commercial
considerations, less emotional complexity (or navel-gazing, if you side
Jackie Chan, who called him "the most boring film-maker on the planet")*
than 'Fallen Angels' or 'In the mood for love', but there's much to admire
in his idiosyncratic digressions from generic conventions. Maggie Cheung,
surely one of HK's finest actresses, but so rarely allowed to prove it, is
slightly wasted here. Her performance is pleasingly internal and
understated, far-removed from the pseudo-comic mugging she made to enact
the Police Story movies which made her famous, but her character is really
just the pining girlfriend, an iconic figure of a better future. I can
fully accept Cheung as the embodiment of all that is feminine and
in the world, but her role is a slight disappointment given the
screen-melting roles Wong handed to Brigitte Lin, Faye Wong, Karen Mok and
Cheung herself in later films. And, by the way, this is very violent.
* Jackie Chan also said that Amy Yip was the ugliest woman in the world and that ladies shouldn't fight in movies.
Two superstars who dominated the Hong Kong art movies in 90's were produced by this movie, Kar-Wai Wong and Maggie Cheung, although to a large extent "As Tears Go By" is a commercial movie. Maggie Cheung has said it was the first time she knew acting was something beyond making simple expression. Before "As Tears Go By", she was a "vase" rather than a professional actress. The story talks about two gangsters and their friendship. Very typical style of Hong Kong gangster movies. But with a good script and a good director, the movie is indeed very watchable. Wong made the movie visually very attractive. The camera movement and angle are remarkable and in fact have showed the style we can see later in Wong's "Chungking Express"(1994). Equally outstanding is the description to the characters especially the one played by Jacky Cheung - a loser who are willing to give up his life in order to obtain a very short-term respect. All the actors performed very well. The style is very different from that of other gangster movies. May not be better than, but at least equally watchable as "A Better Tomorrow" of John Woo and absolutely a movie worth seeing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of my favorite film viewing pastimes is going back to the early
films of some of my favorite directors and getting a feel for where
they've come from to get to where they are. In the last year or so,
Wong Kar-Wai has firmly ensconced himself as my favorite contemporary
filmmaker, and tonight, I treated myself to his 1988 debut feature As
Tears Go By.
What makes this film fascinating is the startling degree to which Wong's instinct for visual poetry and his ability to translate the almost physical pain of longing onto the screen are both already finely honed, though the languid pacing and narrative inventiveness of his later works (like undisputed masterpiece In the Mood for Love) are notably absent.
As Tears Go By wears the clothing of a straightforward Hong Kong street opera of the type made famous during the 1980s by John Woo, though Wong also tips the cap to Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets. It features swaggering bravado and staccato violence one expects of such fare, and is both Wong's most accessible film and his only commercial success to date.
As Tears Go By centers on Wah (Andy Lau), an up-and-coming Triad gangster trying to balance his own ambitions against his loyalty to his feckless "little brother" Fly (Jacky Cheung), whose impulsivity represents a constant danger, not only to himself, but to Wah as well (though he also provides an otherwise tense film with much needed humor). Wah's life is further complicated by a growing love for his cousin Ngor (frequent Wong collaborator Maggie Cheung in her first major dramatic role), a beautiful girl whose existence he was totally unaware of before she came to stay with him while seeking medical treatment in Hong Kong.
Beneath the familiar aspects of genre film, however, lurk the seeds of Wong Kar-Wai's later mastery. As Tears Go By could have been just another bullet ballet, but it is instead a searing, romantic work of art, despite occasional clichés. Always something of an actor's director (and famous for leaning heavily on the improvisational talents of his stars, despite his own background as a screenwriter), he coaxes from his cast performances that are uniformly excellent. Jacky Cheung, in particular, stands out, and he imbues Fly with a reckless machismo that only serves to highlight the self-doubt that gnaws at his soul. The Hong Kong Film Awards Best Actor trophy which Cheung won for this role was well-deserved.
But it is Wong Kar-Wai who really dominates As Tears Go By, as the visual and emotional style that characterized his later works is already in evidence. His signature thematic concerns of longing and memory, and the master iconography he associates with these concepts (slow burning cigarettes and torrential downpours, respectively) figure prominently in As Tears Go By, and while his mastery of the basic visual style he introduces in this film would increase with later films, he was already a powerful cinematic poet.
The only elements of his mature style that are missing are the characteristically recursive and self-referential narrative structures of his later work and the constant weight of emotional isolation that so perfectly captures the disassociative rootlessness of modern existence (though the latter is not completely lacking, and is especially apparent in the opening scenes of the movie). This has the effect of slightly lessening the impact of some of the imagery, but it cannot keep As Tears Go By from being an immensely powerful debut film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As Tears Go By is the pure 'Ah Fei' offering from Wong Kar-wai. Stephen
Teo writes that you take one part Scorcese's "Mean Streets," and you
add one part Jarmusch's "Stranger than Paradise" (Teo 16) and you have
one heck of a Triad film. A triad sibling Wah (Andy Lau) has his little
brother Fly's (Jackie Cheung) back. Fly is constantly in trouble. Added
to the mix is Wah's cousin Ngor (Maggie Cheung) who needing a place to
stay while getting a checkup at the local hospital stays in his flat.
The Wah and Ngor mysteriously fall in love - sort of that charm of the
bad boy business. However, in order to get anything on with Ngor, Wah
needs to settle up for the ill will accumulated by Fly. That is the
short of it. Being Wong Kar-wai's first film - it is understandable
that he has not really developed his oeuvre. Andy Lau, convincingly
played a triad brother, reminds one of the dysfunctional characters
that Wong cultivates. One would not know it if one's entry into the
labyrinth of Wong Kar-wai is through this movie but I guess this movie
lays the framework for his adherence to genre in an effort to belong.
Maggie Cheung is stunning. She will eventually develop into the forlorn
lover in later movies like "Days of Being Wild" and "In the Mood for
Love" and Jackie Cheung, plays the never do well 'Ah Fei' who is
destined to bite it. Difficult to get too deep here but according to
Stephen Teo we really do not see the promise that Wong Kar-wai
eventually delivers. I have to disagree. I think, to some extent, we do
see the promise that Wong-Kar-wai brings to cinema - the dark brooding
characters who all too often defy time and identity are beginning to
show themselves in this movie. The trick is to move forward from here
to open new spaces of consideration in a movie world so eager to adhere
to codes and rules that exemplify genre or worse formula. Kudos all
I'm by no means a Kar Wai Wong aficionado; I've only seen 2 of his
films (this and his follow-up feature "Days of Being Wild"). But from
what I've seen, this is the best place to start.
Kar Wai Wong films are very artistic, and from a technical perspective they are downright miraculous. However, as is the case with many artistic directors, an over emphasis on art can result in losing the audience. After all, not everyone is able to grasp the totality of a film in just 90 minutes. That said, if I had started with "Days of Being Wild" or even one of his more abstract creations I may have been lost.
"As Tears Go By" is an excellent way to dip your toes in the pool. While it is rich with visual poetry, it is not so complex that it loses its audience. It has a linear story which uses explosive scenes of violence to keep us awake, and at the same time there is a gentle & poetic undercurrent. The story is about a young man who is involved in the criminal underworld, and his life is torn between 3 elements: duty to his bosses, loyalty to his friend, and a hope for love with a mysterious girl who drifts into his life.
It is an age-old theme, but it's always worth exploring because it cuts to the heart of who we are as humans. Within this story are powerful doses of rage, humility, fear and hope. What may separate this film from others is the way the main character wants to do the right thing. Sure, he's a tough guy, but he's not beyond rationality and knowing when to get the heck outta dodge. The question is, will life/fate allow him to do the right thing?
Although I feel that Kar Wai Wong's "Days of Being Wild" is a superior cinematic achievement, I think "As Tears Go By" has a more direct connection with the audience simply because the main character is very human and likable. Also his sidekick "Fly" is very funny. Good humor is rare in a lot of art films, but it's not lacking here.
I would compare "As Tears Go By" to another excellent film, Michael Mann's "Heat" with Robert De Niro playing the thief torn by the same 3 elements: duty, friends and love. Another good one is the Chinese film "The Drummer" about a gangster's son torn by which path to take: his father's (violent) or his sister's (caring). To me, the best in the genre is Takeshi Kitano's "Hana-Bi" (Fireworks) which really shows the bipolar life of a violent man who is deeply in love with his wife. If you liked any of these films, I think you'll enjoy "As Tears Go By". Similarly, if you like ATGB, check out the others I mentioned.
Kar-Wai's first film is more in line with the cinematography of other late 80's Hong Kong movies rather than his renown obscure style, seen later on in films like Chungking Express or In the Mood For Love. The characters are also normal in comparison to his later films too, as they take on archetypes seen in many Triad flicks from this era. The writing is classic Wong Kar-Wai however, and what he does with the characters is more interesting then their personalities themselves. In other words their actions speak volumes louder than their dialogue. Andy Lau plays a low-level Triad thug who in hopes of climbing the underworld's ranks becomes held down by his younger brother played by Jacky Cheung. The pair work well together and you begin to like the dynamic bond between them. Trouble ensues between the pair and their gang, and many hard decisions await Andy Lau as he tries to straighten out both his reckless brother and forbidden romance on the side. The ending has a real impact and Wong Kar-Wai's direction is responsible for such a memorable story. Although it feels Kar-Wai wasn't fully at the reigns of this one with some mediocre moments, overall his efforts can be felt wholeheartedly and the passion shines through to deliver a good experience. -7/10
My feelings towards this film was mixed. In a way it seems to be
overrated, just because it was Wong Kai Wei's first film and it was
probably his only commercial and gangster film. It was very typical of
Hong Kong gangster film in the 80s, with the same overplayed message of
loyalty and the main characters trying to prove their value being the
central theme. The story was plain and dull, and truthfully, it was
another one of the gangster films made in the 80s that is influence by
John Woo. Still, I feel this movie deserved some credit for being raved
about in certain circles. First of all, this was one of the better
gangster films out there, and even though the subject of loyalty seemed
overplayed, it was still touching to see the friendship of a boss and
his follower. Secondly, and very interestingly, the movie was filmed
with an artistic touch. I have rarely seen a gangster film
incorporating artistic techniques, such as the distortion of time or
using shots of nature, signatures of Wong Kai Wei's latter films, but
these artistic scenes became memorable. How could I ever forget the
scene where Maggie was walking gingerly through the door, stopped,
hesitated for a moment, but continued and slowly, but with class of a
true lady, make her way up the stairs? That scene was unforgettable.
Although the viewer could only see her back, but from her back, she was
still able to project the feeling of uncertainty, but in the end,
bravery for going after her love. Usually a scene like this would only
be seen in art films, and rarely in a gangster film. In this film,
however, the artistic touch only added to the movie's special appeal. A
lot of Wong's artistic shots were unforgettable.
The performances by the two lead actors, Andy Lau and Jackie Cheung, were solid and touching, but far from spectacular. A lot of times I feel their expressions, especially Lau, were forced. Jackie Cheung seemed more natural in his acting, but his expressions were exaggerated, probably exaggerated to enforce his aura of cockiness, an aura that was not believable. Future films of the two stars, especially the recent ones, had better performances, and the viewer could see their vast improvements. The performance of Maggie Cheung must be complimented. Her sweet naiveness was so convincing that I had a hard time linking her with the ditsy roles she took before, such as in the Police Story. One could tell big things were ahead for her, and her future success proved it.
Overall, very interesting film, but just another one of the 80s gangster film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Wong Kar Wai's films have been described by people in different
adjectives. There are those who claim that his films are boring,
pretentious, badly plotted etc. There are also those who claim that his
films have been the highest incarnations of movie art and are the best
amalgamations of cutting edge and innovative camera techniques and
deep, rich and unusual characterizations. So after years of watching
his films, which is really which? The answer is quite simple and it has
to be both and in fact I can say that MOST of WKW's films exhibit those
qualities. So, if you are not into those films mentioned described by
both his critics and fans, then you should skip this particular
But one thing is still sure: there is such a thing as a good and a bad WKW film. How can you determine? It's relatively easy. Remember that I said that all of his films contained the trademark good and bad elements? If one of the bad elements overpowers the good ones then it is simply a bad WKW film. So what's the deal with Wong's first film?
"As tears go by" was one of the most unique films to come out of HK that year and what was more interesting about it was that it was basically a triad movie, a genre that was defined so well in movies like "The Club" and "Hong Kong Godfather" and refined and somewhat redesigned by "A Better Tomorrow". In general, these films were violently entertaining and each film left a permanent mark on the psyches of audiences everywhere, particularly on how they viewed triads. Watching "As tears go by" must have left a big "What the..?" impression on their faces. That can be justified because the plot is miles away from the usual triad formula of blood brothers having an enemy inside the ranks, the customary treacherous betrayal and of course the bloody revenge where everybody dies. Not in the case of this movie. This movie, like what other reviewers have noticed, is the unofficial HK version of Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets". Just like how Scorsese's movie was a documentary-like exploration of the life and times of Italian Mobsters in New York's Little Italy, "As tears go by" does the same with the exploration of the lives of triads in the crowded Mongkok District of Hong Kong. (You can also spot the similarities between the main characters in "Mean Streets" and "As tears go by")The plot is also basically more or less the same and what WKW's version gains more weight is in terms of its technical and visual aspects.
Scorsese's movie was shot in a down and dirty manner that reflected both its documentary aspirations as well as its very low budget. WKW's film is the actual opposite with its combination of dizzying camera shots as well as odd camera angles. (Cinematography by noted HK filmmaker Andrew Lau Wai Keung) Although WKW hasn't gone yet into full "Chungking" mode, most of the film is still shot in the relatively normal HK manner. (As far as Triad films are concerned that is). The action scenes are also surprisingly brutal, crude and none have any of the polish that makes the blows in other action films seemed less painful than they should be. (Courtesy of Action Choreographer Stephen Tung Wai of "A Better Tomorrow"/ "Reign of Assassins"/ "The Assassin" fame)When people get shot, slashed and smashed and they suffer the bloody consequences. Those statements might give other people the idea that this is a rocking triad action picture but it isn't. The scenes of violence might be strong and might pop out when least expected but they happen so infrequently that you will ultimately be focused on how all these tragic acts of violence affect and spiral the lives of these characters downwards
The acting, on most parts, is okay although I have to admit that in drama films what I focus on more of course would be the acting. (Simply because that is what it has to offer, right?) Andy Lau, as other reviewers have noticed, looks like he was simply phoning in his lines and is simply lazy. Although I can very well see what they mean (especially in the scenes in the beginning with Andy Lau's girlfriend), it is redeemed by some minor scenes like the scene where he pours a bottle of whiskey on his stone-cold, world-weary face. The strongest role in the movie is portrayed by Jacky Cheung as Lau's protégé Fly. Cheung's manic acting style compliments his role pretty well; a role that has several parallels with Robert De Niro's Johnny Boy in "Mean Streets" but one that takes a new and even more drastic turn plot wise. Alex Man is superb again as (what else?) the bad triad, a role that he owned in Taylor Wong's "Rich and Famous" and "Tragic Hero".
A bad note in the film comes in the form of overused soundtrack, in this case the Cantonese version of "Take my Breath Away." While it was very surprising to hear it the first time, it soon proved to be quite annoying. I like 80's music, but I believe that it was relatively used for too long.
Overall, the whole experience was a great WKW experience, even if there are some aforementioned pitfalls, but then they are covered more than enough by the striking visuals and some good acting, and not to mention the level of ambition displayed here. Overall, a great merge of a Triad film and a later WKW film. Those expecting a triad movie ala "Bloody Brotherhood" or "The Killer" should probably adjust their individual tastes first before approaching the movie. For better or for worse, WKW has opened the floodgates, inviting several other filmmakers to the "new" style of film.
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