Reviews

Reviews

As Tears Go By

As Tears Go By

Wong gok ka moon

Wong Kar-wai

Hong Kong, 1988

Credits

Review by Leo Goldsmith

Posted on 21 January 2005

Source Kino DVD

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Wong Kar-wai’s debut film would appear to be a fairly literal retelling of Mean Streets, even including an absurdly funny melee in a pool hall. Like Scorsese’s film, As Tears Go By is a picaresque of familial loyalty and honor amongst thieves, the story of a repentant ne’er-do-well and his attempt to keep his boyishly volatile friend out of trouble. Andy Lau plays Ah-Wah, the Harvey Keitel counterpart, a smooth hood who benevolently acts as “big brother” to the perennially excitable Fly. And while Fly persistently grasps for fame and respect as a criminal, Wah finds himself torn between his loyalty to his friend and a desire to be simply “an ordinary man,” to escape from the perils of the city to his cousin (and girlfriend), Ah-Ngor (played a by a young, pudgy-faced Maggie Cheung).

As is perhaps to be expected from a Wong film, there is a greater degree of emphasis on the romance between Wah and Ah-Ngor. Their ill-fated love is metaphorically expressed in an image halfway through the film: that of two buses passing each other on a road in the mountains. Like so many of Wong’s romances, Wah and Ah-Ngor’s love is a series of almosts and near-misses. Here, it is accompanied by a Cantonese cover of the ’80’s pop hit, “Take My Breath Away” (yes, the one from Top Gun).

But As Tears Go By is also a notable (if familiar) crime and action drama, presenting a rich and kinetic portrait of the Hong Kong underworld and its system of pseudo-familial relationships and obligations. As in any gangster film, respect and duty are paramount, and in overstepping his bounds and renouncing his obligations to the family, Fly finds himself at the mercy of the underworld’s internal system of punishment and retribution. Trapped between his conflicting desires and obligations, Ah-Wah hastens to a tragic resolution.

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