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As Tears Go By (1988)

As Tears Go By (1988)

Wong Kar Wai elevates the formulaic crime romance drama with the beginnings of his singular style

7.0

Movie

Hong Kong
Cantonese
Crime, Drama, Romance
1988
WONG KAR-WAI
Alex Man, Andy Lau, Benz Kong To-Hoi
102 min

TLDR

Looking back at Wong’s earlier works makes it feel like looking back at old photos, remembering how things were. This isn’t the best work to introduce new viewers, but fans of the director would nevertheless appreciate watching his debut.

What it's about

After his beautiful cousin Ngor is sent to live with him, mid-level gangster Wah is torn between leaving the Triad to pursue love and staying to protect his volatile friend Fly.

The take

Before Wong Kar Wai made his signature romantic dramas, he first made his directorial debut As Tears Go By, a film that wouldn’t be out of place in the crime and action flicks that characterized 1980s cinema. There are moments that feel a tad derivative, such as the use of Take My Breath Away from 1986’s Top Gun, and the gangster love triangle reminiscent of Martin Scorcese’s Mean Streets, but Wong’s style starts to peek through with his use of color and light, and of course, the distinctive blurred action that transforms movement into lines. It’s not as sleek as Wong’s better known works, but As Tears Go By is still a good film to watch, marking Wong as one of the biggest names in the then-emerging Hong Kong New Wave.

What stands out

Frankly, the plot of As Tears Go By is typical of gangster crime thrillers, but Wong’s style creates an atmosphere that elevates the whole experience. The most striking aspect is the fight scene where Wong makes each action blurred, with certain frames removed to make the movement feel uniquely dynamic, fast and slow at the same time.

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