I'm by no means a Kar Wai Wong aficionado; I've only seen 2 of his films (this and his follow-up feature "Days of Being Wild"). But from what I've seen, this is the best place to start.
Kar Wai Wong films are very artistic, and from a technical perspective they are downright miraculous. However, as is the case with many artistic directors, an over emphasis on art can result in losing the audience. After all, not everyone is able to grasp the totality of a film in just 90 minutes. That said, if I had started with "Days of Being Wild" or even one of his more abstract creations I may have been lost.
"As Tears Go By" is an excellent way to dip your toes in the pool. While it is rich with visual poetry, it is not so complex that it loses its audience. It has a linear story which uses explosive scenes of violence to keep us awake, and at the same time there is a gentle & poetic undercurrent. The story is about a young man who is involved in the criminal underworld, and his life is torn between 3 elements: duty to his bosses, loyalty to his friend, and a hope for love with a mysterious girl who drifts into his life.
It is an age-old theme, but it's always worth exploring because it cuts to the heart of who we are as humans. Within this story are powerful doses of rage, humility, fear and hope. What may separate this film from others is the way the main character wants to do the right thing. Sure, he's a tough guy, but he's not beyond rationality and knowing when to get the heck outta dodge. The question is, will life/fate allow him to do the right thing?
Although I feel that Kar Wai Wong's "Days of Being Wild" is a superior cinematic achievement, I think "As Tears Go By" has a more direct connection with the audience simply because the main character is very human and likable. Also his sidekick "Fly" is very funny. Good humor is rare in a lot of art films, but it's not lacking here.
I would compare "As Tears Go By" to another excellent film, Michael Mann's "Heat" with Robert De Niro playing the thief torn by the same 3 elements: duty, friends and love. Another good one is the Chinese film "The Drummer" about a gangster's son torn by which path to take: his father's (violent) or his sister's (caring). To me, the best in the genre is Takeshi Kitano's "Hana-Bi" (Fireworks) which really shows the bipolar life of a violent man who is deeply in love with his wife. If you liked any of these films, I think you'll enjoy "As Tears Go By". Similarly, if you like ATGB, check out the others I mentioned.
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