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旺角卡門 (1988)
As Tears Go By

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 04/10/2009
Summary: Uninspiring debut for Wong Kar-Wai

Small-time gangster Wah (Andy Lau) finds himself bailing out his no-good Triad brother Fly (Jacky Cheung), who gets into increasingly serious trouble with a rival faction of his own gang. When Wah falls for his cousin (Maggie Cheung), he finds himself spreading himself too thinly.

Wong Kar-Wai’s directorial debut will probably always be the odd-one-out in his filmography even if he goes on to make another hundred films. It doesn’t have film-noir voice-overs, there’s no Christopher Doyle behind the camera and it has awful canned music for a soundtrack.

AS TEARS GO BY is almost a routine Triad thriller. I say “almost”, because even here, so early in his career, Wong has at least tried to add some depth to the characters’ emotions.

The problem is, the characters are quite unlikeable. In fact, Fly is downright annoying. He never learns from past mistakes, and predictably just goes from one screwed-up situation to another, leaving a trail of destruction behind him. Wah himself is reasonably likeable, but the fact that he always bails his little brother out of trouble without making a serious effort to get him to sort his life out made me lose patience and sympathy for him. Out of the three main characters, Ah-Ngoh (Maggie Cheung) is the least irritating, although we are left scratching our heads as to why she falls in love with Wah – he doesn’t treat her that well and is not obviously attracted to his lifestyle.

Although there are a couple of shots that look typical Wong Kar-Wai in execution, it’s clear that his skills were less than fully developed. There isn’t the normal flair and stark realism of Christopher Doyle’s photography, sadly. Worse, the aforementioned canned synth music is tinny and to top it all off, the romantic scenes are played against a truly horrible Cantopop version of Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away”. Someone should have told Wong that that particular piece of music had already been used in another film...

While the performances are quite strong, there isn’t enough meat on the bones in this particular gangster tale. I found that there was always something, somewhere in the film that annoyed me. Whether it was the characters, the music or the seemingly endless revenge attacks and counter-attacks the various gang factions indulge in. I was surprised to learn that it remains Wong’s most commercially successful film in Hong Kong, as on the face of it, it’s just not that good. But then, western audiences often disagree with eastern audiences on what makes a good film...

Reviewer Score: 4

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 11/03/2008

Before Wong Kar-wai became Wong Kar-wai the controversial art house auteur made his directorial debut with a love letter to Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets" (1973). Wong understands the original film's carnal instincts and uncannily duplicates it without forfeiting to his peers' urge to eroticize the triad lifestyle. Audiences put off by the dizzying techniques of Wong's future projects might be pleasantly surprised by the straightforwardness of "As Tears Go By."

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: pat00139
Date: 03/04/2007
Summary: Very nice debut

When writer/director Wong Kar-Wai made this movie I wonder if he knew he’d one day be in Cannes, waiting to see if the movie he’d spent the past 4 years working on would win the Palm d’Or. Well, ‘2046’ didn’t win the award, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Pretend it’s 1988 and you have this movie coming out. With its occasional vivid neon lights, blurry action, strong storytelling and acting, how can you not see this movie as something to watch out for? The movie is rough around the edges, there’s no denying that. The style that Mr. Wong would later go on to perfect in ‘Ashes of Time’ and ‘Chungking Express’ peeks out here and there in the movie, but you can see Mr. Wong is trying to find himself.

This movie isn’t as sophisticated as Mr. Wong’s later movies, but you do get some hints of subtle symbolism throughout the movie. The first hint is the gauze mask Maggie Cheung wears the first time you see her. All of Mr. Wong’s movie concen how nobody can truly communicate with each other (which is brilliantly portrayed in ‘In the Mood for Love’), and it’s shown very well in here. (Actually, the fact that he worked some 4 years before finally finishing ‘2046’ (and the fact that he’s still not happy with it) actually goes to support this worldview.) Everybody tells Jackie Cheung to calm down but he just keeps doing what he wants to. Everybody keeps telling Andy Lau that Mr. Cheung is no good, but he keeps him under his wing. The only person that seems to understand what people are saying is Mrs. Cheung, but she doesn’t really say anything. What does that say about the human condition?

In addition to this, the hidden glass represents something in the future that may or may not happen. It’s a distant dream, something to look out for in the future, even though it might never be found. Dreams are something else Mr. Wong likes to have in his movies. There are also a few characters talking through mirrors, which means something important, and which Mr. Wong uses in his later movies as well. The symbolism isn’t as hard or sophisticated as in some of his other movies, but it’s there and it’s very nice to see.

The music is very important. It gives a lot away as to the mood of the movie. It’s kind of funny that the most important song in the movie was taken from a Jerry Bruckheimer movies from the 1980s, ‘Take my Breath Away’. ‘Top Gun’ had the song first but ‘As Tears Go By’ made it meaningful. The rest of the music is completely dated (as is the hair, the close, and whatever else you can think of, by the way) but it’s completely appropriate for the mood of the movie.

As for the rest of the movie, the script is really solid. Mr. Wong delivers strong dialogue and gets his actors do hit every mark they aim for. Andy Lau does a wonderful job looking sympathetic or menacing, whatever the scene calls for. A young Maggie Cheung looks cute and sympathetic, which is what she should look like. Jacky Cheung does in this movie what Jacky Cheung does best: get other people into trouble. His award-winning performance involves a lot of smirks and sneers and I suppose the award is well deserved. All the supporting characters are great as well. All the actors bring real life to their characters. Even after well over a hundred films to his credit, this movie stands as one of Andy Lau’s best performances. Not many other movies can claim that.

The movie won Jacky Cheung a Hong Kong film award but it was nominated in just about every other category (10 nods, 2 wins). Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung were also nominated as was Wong Kar-Wai (for director), and cinematographer Lau Wai-Keung (or Andrew Lau). The movie was also nominated for best picture, but the Jackie Chan-produced ‘Rouge’ with Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui won that award. (Incidentally, Leslie Cheung won best actor working with Wong Kar-Wai on ‘Days of Being Wild’.) In any case, it deserved all the accolades it got, because it’s certainly a good movie. It shows the talent that Wong Kar-Wai had and announced a new force to be rekoned with. The movie is very solid, with great acting, writing and direction.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: dandan
Date: 03/08/2006
Summary: very average...

a decidedly average and generic gangster movie from wong kar wai. one that i didn't really enjoy...

andy lau's character is forgettable, jacky cheung is annoying as hell; in fact, i'd say that maggie cheung is the only bright spot of the film.

oh, and that canto-pop version of berlin's (???) 'take my breath away', what were they thinking. best avoided when you consider the gems that wong kar wai would go on to offer.

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 06/19/2005

Wong Kar Wai's first film is his most meaningless and least interesting to me. Here lie the first traces (that I have seen) of his later developed trademarks--flashy, blurry camera, and use of popular Western songs. But this update of Martin Scorsese's mean streets tale doesn't have the impact of the original. I much prefer Kar Wai's artistic triumphs in the 90s and into the new century.


Reviewed by: phil28
Date: 01/24/2003
Summary: Jacky's first award-winning performance

Jacky Cheung's portrayal as Fly will leave an impression. Andy Lau and Maggie Cheung, plus Alex Man puts on a show-stopping performance. Wong Kar-wai not as arthousy film as his later works.

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 02/12/2002

In Wong Kar-Wai's first (and most commerically successful) film, he explores the life of a small-time Triad played by Andy Lau. Lau spends his days depending his small piece of turf and helping out his hot-headed sidekick, Jacky Cheung. Things get a bit more complicated when Lau's cousin (Maggie Cheung) comes to stay and some romantic feelings develop.

And that's about it. Like most of Wong's films, this one has a pretty slim plot to it. However, unlike most of Wong's later work, this movie is pretty linear. There are no convoluted inner monologues or circular story lines. And the filming techniques, while having some of the stylistic touches of later films, are not as dense as his others. As such, this might come off to "Wong lite" to his die-hard fans, but I still enjoyed the movie. The characters seem to be a little under-developed and the film loses steam during the romantic bits (both probably due to Wong's "flying paper" style), but I found the core story (the Triad drama) to be quite compelling.

Unlike many over-glamorized gangster movies like Triads: The Inside Story, you really (I assume) get a sense of what it is like to be a small potato in the Triad world. Disputes are not settled in mansions with people wielding two guns, they are settled in dank alleys with baseball bats. You don't use a Benz to get around, you use the bus. This dark worldview had me interested, even when the movie drifted away to the slightly hammy romantic parts (like some of his other movies, Wong tends to overuse musical pieces, in this case a Cantonese version of "Take My Breath Away"). And Andy Lau seemed pretty cool in this movie. I'm not normally a fan of his work, but his minimalist (some say lazy, but I will be nice in this review) style works for the most part, and makes a nice counterpoint to Jacky Cheung's more manic acting.

As Tears Go By might be too quirky for some (or not enough for die-hard Wong fans), but overall, this is a pretty interesting and stylish Triad movie that's worth checking out.

Reviewed by: Yellow Hammer
Date: 05/10/2001
Summary: WKW's best movie. The Megastar DVD rocks.

Ha-tau (Andy Lau) is a small-time triad leader. Two of his followers are Fly (Jacky Cheung) and Ah-Site (Barry Wong). Fly in so many words is a f*ck-up, always trying to do big things but winds up getting into trouble. Ha-tau detests having to bail out Fly all the time, but he does without hesitation, even at the cost of getting seriously hurt in the process. Tony (Alex Man) is the leader of another gang that Fly is constantly getting in trouble with. At the beginning of the movie, Ah Ngor (Maggie Cheung), who is Ha-tau's cousin from Lantau Island, is quite sick and has come to Kowloon seeking medical treatment. A good part of the movie is devoted to the romance that develops between Ha-tau and Ah Ngor.

This was Wong Kar-wai's first movie as a director. We see the traditional trademarks that have become a regular staple in all of his movies - the first-person handheld camera angles, the slow-motion action scenes, the underlit housing, the methodical pacing of the movie. As expected, the ending is typical Wong Kar-wai abstract. This is my favorite of Wong Kar-wai's movies because at least the pace of the movie is somewhat faster and more logical than his other movies later on.

This movie was nominated for a slew of awards for 1988 in all the major categories. Jacky Cheung won the Best Supporting Actor award for his Fly portrayal.

Reviewed by: jfierro
Date: 12/21/1999

This film makes an interesting contrast to A MOMENT OF ROMANCE, which came out two years after this film. In both films, Andy Lau is an up-and-coming gang member who finds love and wants to reform his ways, but is inevitably drawn back. By now the story is familiar. In A MOMENT OF ROMANCE, the film succeeds because of the interest you take in the romance between Andy Lau and Ng Sin-Lin. By contrast, this film cares primarily about setting up unconventional camera angles and film school tricks. The characterization is pitiful, with no attention paid to consistency, and as a result, the audience could care less about the relationship between Maggie Cheung and Andy Lau, or Andy and Jacky Cheung for that matter. The ending is completely out of thin air. Still, there are very impressive mood settings and inventive cinematography. It appears that Wong Kar-Wai has stressed form over function from the beginning. As for me, I prefer a decent story to a self-obsessed director, so I'll take a well-developed movie like MOMENT OF ROMANCE over this showy piece anyday.

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/21/1999

Wrong Kar Wai's debut feature is a wonderful outing in the Hong Kong Gangster genre. Excellent cinematography and very good acting.


[Reviewed by Andrej Blazeka]

Reviewed by: hokazak
Date: 12/09/1999

A sort of hyperbolic take on the set-up from Scorcese's MEANSTREETS: a low-level triad "big brother" (Andy Lau) has a hot-tempered "littler brother" (Jacky Cheung) who can't keep out of trouble (gambling debts, insulting rival bosses), and consequently is in constant need of being bailed out by his protector. Andy Lau is super cool, but lacks the ambition to rise in the ranks of the triad societies - and once he meets his cousin (Maggie Cheung) from Kowloon and falls in love with her, he even decides he wants to leave "the life". But it turns out that he has to bail out Jacky one more time, with predictable results... Notable for the repetitious and grueling (but quite inventive!) punishments, beatings and humiliations that the rival triad boys from the same society put each other through, in response to the latest insult received. Two standouts are the "shooting into the other guy's waistband" trick, and the Canto-pop version of Berlin's hit song, "Take My Breath Away." Although there is some incredibly amateurish editing, I found myself somewhat fascinated by this film - it had the feel of an uneven debut piece by a new film-maker, that was flawed in its execution, but showed flashes of promise and ingenuity. (What a way to talk about one of HK's most respected directors, eh?)

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Wong Kar Wai - art or atrocious? Who cares. I think the story works just fine and, as usual, Andy Lau Dak-Wah delivers the goods in the lead. The stop motion action scenes are amazing as is the post-modern 'acknowledged' use of soundtrack in the "Take My Breath Away" sequence. He re-uses this in the later "Chungking Express" to great affect with "California Dreaming". Jacky Cheung grabs the best honour moment refusing help to stand up and the wedding scene is priceless. I have only one running disagreement with my HK confidant James on this one - which is better, this or "A Moment Of Romance" ... both are originals.

[Reviewed by Andrew Best]