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 with 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 in 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 comforting 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.
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