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Wah (Andy Lau) is a low-level Hong Kong gangster constantly in trouble with the bosses and forever dragging his younger, immature brother Fly (Jacky Cheung) out of trouble. When Wah's distant cousin Ngor (Maggie Cheung) moves in with him, receiving medical treatment for an illness at a city hospital, his feelings for her begin to make him question his life of crime. When she returns to her home town, he follows her hoping to begin a new life together. But it's not long before he is called back to the city streets to rescue Fly from a gang out to kill him and, when Fly takes on a dangerous assignment for the bosses to prove himself, Wah promises to protect him and must once again enter the world he so desperately wants to leave.

Review by Craig Miller:
For a debut feature, sticking to popular genre pieces that often enjoy success at the local box-office is not necessarily a bad idea. Hong Kong director Kar Wai Wong's first feature, As Tears Go By, is solid as a somewhat typical crime flick from that clichéd genre, but it is also a work that highlights a young director with a fabulous eye for detail, a stylish vision and slick original ideas on what captures imagination and human truth.

A low-budget, Hong Kong Mean Streets of sorts, As Tears Go By is not just a dramatisation of how Wong's cool anti-hero Wah finds himself pulled in and out of the world of street violence and crime, it's also a look into how it affects his behaviour and ideals as he continually leaves and re-enters the world, each time profoundly more affected. Really, how long can he survive?

Wong's frenetic camera work during the intense street chase scenes is perfectly realized - the action is furious, the feeling dangerous and it all comes together with the shake of a camera and the fight sequence involving a deft stop-motion photography touch gives the action real resonance, especially when the knives come out!

But he's not all just guns blazin'. Wong's softer side shines through in the touching scenes between the two love-struck cousins - regular Wong collaborator's Hong Kong pop music icon Andy Lau and the fabulous Maggie Cheung - and it's this relationship, as well as the close bond with his family, that both saves and condemns Wah into such a tortuous life of violence.

The synthesized soundtrack, over-sized mirrored sun-glasses and fist-clenching Cantonese cover of Berlin's Take My Breath Away date the film terribly, timeless this ain't, but really the appeal is in the directorial pudding!

Even though the DVD leaves a lot to be desired; the grainy, flecky picture and the exclusion of extras and sloppy subtitling taint the release, this is one of those genres and one of those eras where the effect of an average transfer can add a little to the magic of proceedings (it reminds me of those classic chop-socky double features at the drive-in when growing up).

While this is hardly Wong's masterpiece, As Tears Go By is a stunning beginning to what is proving to be an equally stunning career and, with such dramatic flair, visual appeal and one of the most gripping and emotionally crippling endings to a genre film of this type, it's not hard to see why this fabulous filmmaker sits atop the tree in world cinema.

Published August 18, 2005

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(Hong Kong, 1988)

CAST: Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, William Chang, Alex Man, Kau Lam, Ronald Wong

DIRECTOR: Kar Wai Wong

SCRIPT: Kar Wai Wong

RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16:9 Anamorphic, Dolby Digital 5.1



DVD RELEASE: August 15, 2005

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