Thursday, December 05, 2013

As Tears Go By

Directed by Wong Kar-Wai and written by Kar-Wai and Jeffrey Lau, As Tears Go By is the story about a small-time gangster trying to go straight while keeping his friend out of trouble as the visit from his young cousin also complicate things. The film is a gangster film of sorts that mixes Kar-Wai’s romanticism that would be prevalent in his later films. Starring Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung, and Jacky Cheung. As Tears Go By is a brilliantly stylish crime-drama from Wong Kar-Wai.

The film is a simple story about a small-time gangster who takes in his second-cousin to stay at his place where he falls for her while dealing with the chaos his best friend has created against rival factions. It’s a film that recalls elements of Martin Scorsese’s 1973 film Mean Streets that has a similar premise about a small-time hoodlum wanting to go straight while trying to get his friend out of trouble. Yet, Wong Kar-Wai infuses that premise with something much more as the character of Wah (Andy Lau) is dealing with his role as a hoodlum who works for the biggest boss of Hong Kong in Uncle Kwan (Ching Wai) while the arrival of his second-cousin Ngor (Maggie Cheung) has him thinking about a life out of that world. Still, he is devoted to his best friend Fly (Jacky Cheung) who is eager to make a name for himself but manages to cause trouble as well as conflict with another small-time hoodlum in Tony (Alex Man).

The script by Kar-Wai and Jeffrey Lau does have a lot of typical aspects that is expected in the crime drama where it is about these small-time hoods trying to climb up the ranks so they can lead their own gang and become a top boss. Wah doesn’t have that ambition as he just wants to do his job and get paid but his friendship with Fly causes issues as Fly has the ambition but not the professionalism to do so. Especially when Uncle Kwan is looking for someone to do a big job in killing an informant so that he wouldn’t go to prison. Wah’s encounter with Ngor has him wanting to leave the life as he becomes aware of how fleeting it is as the time he has with Ngor becomes far more fulfilling. Yet, he becomes conflicted with his love for Ngor and his devotion to Fly that would lead to some trouble consequences.

Kar-Wai’s direction is definitely full of style from the way he presents some of the film’s violent moments but also finds something that is entrancing in the way it plays out. Notably as he plays with frame-speeds to create some intense moments while adding a sense of flair to the way some of the violent moments and the meetings between hoods and bosses happen. Kar-Wai knows where to place the camera in these moments while creating something that is loose and also unpredictable in the way the violence occurs. Kar-Wai would add something similar to the romantic elements of the film where it is played with these gorgeous images and compositions where there’s bit of humor but it is largely romantic. Though it is sort of uneven in tone, Kar-Wai does find way to play into that conflict that Wah has to deal with that does lead to this very intense climax about what he has to do for himself. Overall, Kar-Wai crafts a very sensational yet ravishing film about a man trying to leave behind his life of crime.

Cinematographer Wai-keung Lau does amazing work with the film‘s colorful cinematography that plays into Kar-Wai‘s visual style with its vibrant colors for some of the exterior scenes at night as well as its use of lighting for some of the interior scenes. Editors William Chang and Bei-Dak Cheong do fantastic work with the editing with its use of jump-cuts and frame-speeds that would also play into Kar-Wai‘s presentation while Chang also does the production design for some of the clubs the characters go to as well as homes that Wah and Ngor live in. The film’s music by Danny Chung and Teddy Robin Kwan is excellent for its mixture of moody synthesizer-based music with some raucous guitar tones for some of the suspense while its soundtrack includes a lot of Asian pop music of the time that includes an effective cover of Berlin’s Take My Breath Away.

The film’s superb cast includes some notable small roles from Ching Wai as triad leader Uncle Kwan, production designer/co-editor William Chang as a doctor friend of Ngor, and Ronald Wong as Fly’s protégé Site whose encounters with Fly’s troubles has him wanting to leave the life for something normal. Alex Man is terrific as the very antagonistic hoodlum Tony who likes to goad Fly into fighting while maintaining his status as a hoodlum who is eager to be next in line as top boss. Jacky Cheung is fantastic as Fly as he is someone full of energy as this small-time hood eager to make a name for himself as Cheung is fun to watch as it would include some moments where he deals with humility.

Maggie Cheung is just radiant as Ngor as this young woman who arrives to Wah’s home to stay for a few days for a medical checkup as she has this understated quality to someone who could steer Wah into something more as it’s definitely one of her finest. Finally, there’s Andy Lau in a marvelous performance as Wah as this very reserved yet dangerous man who deals with the bleakness of his future as he’s also conflicted into helping Fly or go into a far more safer life with Ngor where he and Cheung definitely have some chemistry as they’re one of the film’s major highlights.

As Tears Go By is a remarkable debut film from Wong Kar-Wai that is highlighted by the incredible performances of Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung, and Jacky Cheung. While it is a bit uneven in its tone, the film is still an engaging one for its evocative imagery and its unique approach to crime and drama. Especially in the way Kar-Wai would match all sorts of things like music and image to create something special. In the end, As Tears Go By is a rapturous film from Wong Kar-Wai.

Wong Kar-Wai Films: Days of Being Wild - Chungking Express - Ashes of Time/Ashes of Time Redux - Fallen Angels - Happy Together - In the Mood for Love - 2046 - Eros-The Hand - My Blueberry Nights - The Grandmaster - The Auteurs #28: Wong Kar-Wai

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