Hong Kong Cinema

As Tears Go By

  • Made: 1988
  • Box Office: HK $11.5m (# 31)
  • Format: DVD
  • Region: PAL Reg 2
  • Release Date: 24 Jan 2005
  • Company: Tartan
  • Length: 94 mins
  • Picture: 1.77:1 anamorphicwidescreen
  • Sound: DD1.0
  • Language: Mandarin with English subtitles
  • Extras: Trailer, biographies/filmographies
  • Classification: 18


Wong Kar Wai


Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Alex Man, Ronald Wong Ban

As Tears Go By - Better known as the art house darling he is today, Wong Kar Wai started his Hong Kong cinema career as a screenwriter, with As Tears Go By being his directorial debut and a far more conventional Hong Kong flick than his later films. Most recently winning global critical acclaim with 2046, his sequel of sorts to In The Mood For Love, Wai is "The director with the most films (6, all directed between 1989 to 2000) selected among the Best 100 Chinese Motion Pictures selected by Hong Kong Film Awards in celebration of 100 years of movies." (thank you IMDB).


Andy Lau plays Wah, a mid-level triad thug in Kowloon who is happy with his lot as enforcer, picking up on bad debts and mentoring his friend, Fly (played by Jacky Cheung). Wah's cousin Ngor ends up coming over from Lantau Island to stay with Wah while she seeks medical treatment, and in her own small way makes an impact on Wah's shallow life of fighting and drinking. After she returns home, Wah can't get her off his mind, but he has problems in Kowloon as Fly's arrogance and bad debts increasingly get him into trouble, specifically with Tony, a rival triad at Wah's level. Torn between love and honour, how will Wah choose between his new life and his blood brother?


The backbone of As Tears Go By is basically the plot to Mean Streets. The respected and moderately successful gangster in love with his cousin and having to deal with his arrogant and stupid protégé, whose debts and bad attitude gets him into big trouble with other local gangsters. Here the themes of Catholic guilt are replaced by the experimental stylistical flourishes that serve as a test run for Wong Kar Wai's future films. Whilst conceptually sticking to the tried-and-trusted Triad picture, these little trials certainly help give the film a visual edge. Wong's love of filters is evident, one brawl is given a nervous energy thanks to the use of a blue filter and slo-mo, and the final scene in particular is made more powerful due to the decision to have silence as a backing track.

However, the style doesn't mask the lack of substance, and not only is the plot a carbon copy but the performances don't shine enough to get you to invest your emotions into the film. Andy Lau is justifiably a huge Hong Kong star, but this isn't among his best performances. One scene that calls for a display of frustrated rage comes across as a tantrum, but on the whole his portrayal of Wah is solid if unremarkable. Maggie Cheung is certainly beautiful as cousin Ngor, but the character gives her little to do, and Jacky Cheung nails the horribly blinkered selfishness of Fly, but while we are made to understand the frustrations that make him act so stupidly we don't get enough of his relationship with Wah to explain why they have such a strong bond that Wah is compelled to help Fly rather than leave him to lie in the bed he made. Still, for a 'good' gangster character, it's refreshing that Wah is still a nasty piece of work who is happy to acknowledge that his main interests include boozing and brawling, at least until love comes along.


As discs go this is pretty bad.

The picture is noticeably damaged, with spots and scratches regularly marring the print throughout the course of the film. It looks as if no attempt at a re-master has been made, and although the Hong Kong film industry was infamous for failing to take great care of its original prints, it doesn't excuse Tartan if Hong Kong Legends manage to produce decent quality efforts time and time again. Bad prints of 70s martial arts flicks released at budget prices may be acceptable, but bad prints offered at a premium price by an art house label seems like a lack of effort, especially for a release off the back of a director known for visual flair.

This is only emphasised by the sole offering of the Mandarin mono dub, a strange choice as the film was originally shot in Cantonese and is hard to ignore. In a bad way. Interestingly it seems Tartan are issuing a re-release of As Tears Go By in September, this time with both Cantonese and Mandarin audio, though it remains to be seen whether the picture will receive a sorely needed clean-up. As for extras, they amount to trailers for other Tartan releases.


As Tears Go By is a solid triad-in-trouble movie, but the more adventurous visual style only hints at the beautiful films that Wong Kar Wai would go on to create. Not really an essential watch for WKW fans, it serves as a decent gangster film as they go, violent even by Hong Kong standards and it deserves noting for the brilliant way of highlighting how a man is bad - he feeds beer to kittens. An okay movie let down by a pretty bad disc.