What an utterly strange film this is.
I cannot begin to describe how wonderful this movie made me feel. I can equate it, on a visceral level, with listening to Daft Punk's Discovery. You know, that moment in "Harder Better Faster Stronger" when you get to the real break down replete with amazing vocoderized chanting? I had this stupid grin on my face the first time I heard that and immediately stopped dancing at this club in Cork, Ireland. It was jaw dropping. So is As Tears Go By.
It travels paths upon which many a film has journeyed (Mean Streets, most notably), but it contains such vibrancy and life that a rather bittersweet quasi-gangster movie is transformed into something more. It transcends the dour catholicism of Scorsese's breakthrough film and achieves a sense of joy and rapture that rivals some of the greatest, most buoyant films of all time (such as Wizard of Oz and Singin' in the Rain).
The other reason to admire this film derives from its fight scenes. Compare the fisticuffs here to the work of more highly-regarded Asian action directors. Look at Crouching Tiger, Hero, or Hard Boiled and tell me that the fight scenes in those films are more brutal than the ones here. They're not. I will not go so far as to say that As Tears Go By contains better fight scenes, but I will say that I found that they hurt to watch; you could actually feel the blows. That's more than I can say for the fight scenes in those other films. The only thing that this film resembles, as far as eliciting a visceral reaction from a fight scene, is the fight in the trailer in Kill Bill 2 (or really the Uma/Vivica fight in Kill Bill 1). As Tears Goes By achieves a brutality that most directors try to avoid. And yes, that's admirable (insert rant about the desensitizing power of violence in media...).
This is a great movie, but not quite as great as Happy Together or Chungking Express (it is an improvement upon In the Mood for Love). This was one of Wong Kar Wai's earliest feature films and there is an immaturity to the direction at times that almost always accompanies the work of a young director. Wong Kar Wai is one of the greatest living directors (as good a filmmaker as Herzog, Jarmusch, Spielberg, or Leigh) and should be more highly regarded. As Tears Go By is a great place to start, as it is a tad more accessible than some of his later work and offers viewers a nice portal into this filmmaker's world.
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