As I've mentioned before, Wong Kar Wai is somewhat of a Marmite-director for most Hong Kong fans. Some love the artistry he creates, others think his work can be quite over-rated and boring...
While I've never had Marmite, I have endured all of his films and get what both sides are saying. Thankfully, for his directorial debut, As Tears Go By is a bit faster paced and oozes that wild, triad-drama from the late 80's most Hong Kong film fans just adored!
Inspired by Scorsese's Mean Streets, Wong crafts a beautifully shot, neatly scripted and violent thriller with the wonderful and handsome Andy Lau giving one of his best performances, along with co-stars Jacky and Maggie Cheung, and even Alex Mann as the antagonist. As with all his films, there is a certain naturalistic approach to his characters making even the background players, stand-out in their role.
Director Andrew Lau of Infernal Affairs fame, is the cinematographer, giving a stunningly real look into the gritty ways of the Hong Kong underworld, capturing the drama and action in some beautifully lit scenes. Veteran Stephen Tung Wei looks after the violent action, joined by Kong To Hoi who has starred in, and choreographed for films such as Twins Mission, Five Superfighters, and The Grandmaster.
While not as slow-burning as his films that followed, As Tears Go By would be one of my favourites of Wong Kar Wai's for many reasons. As a film-maker, I find that most directors put their all into their first film, working with a lower budget but maximum creativity to deliver something special. While this may show many of Wong's traits for what was to come, I still think its a more honest representation of what he can do before budget and expectations step in!
Of course, aside from the triad action, As Tears Go By focuses on the taboo romance between cousins Andy Lau and Maggie Cheung, with Mag's coming to stay with him in the city after falling ill - not knowing of his activities as a low-level gangster until she has already fell in love with him. As with all his films, Wong carries the drama of such a situation wonderfully, backed by the performances of his cast of course.
Cutting deep with its story of heart, love and brotherhood, As Tears Go By is well worth the watch and a fantastic film from an era of Hong Kong cinema, long gone...
Overall: Beautifully shot and wonderfully directed, Wong Kar Wai's directorial debut is one of my favourites!
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