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Kino on Video presents
"I don't deserve to be your little brother. Just act like you never met me."
DVD ReviewWah's (Andy Lau) life as a gangster is going, well, okay. He may no longer be the hotshot that he was, but he's been getting paid to kill since the age of 14, and he's solid and reliable. His longtime girlfriend Mabel has grown tired of his refusal to marry her and just aborted his child, but a new interest comes into his life in the person of his ailing cousin Ngor (Maggie Cheung), who's been sent to stay with him while she gets some medical tests done. There's an obvious attraction between the two of them, but Ngor disappears back to her home off the mainland once she gets the all-clear from her doctor.
But Wah has bigger issues to deal with. His younger brother Fly (Jacky Cheung) has borrowed money from gangster Tony (Alex Man) to pay for their little brother Site's (Ronald Wong) wedding reception, and Wah has to rescue him when he falls behind on his payments. Fly's a bit of a loose cannon, continually comparing himself to his more successful older brother and trying to prove himself, but he invariably does it in the worst possible way, striking out against his fellow gang members. When one of his colleagues turns informant, and the gang's godfather needs a hit man, it's finally Fly's chance to make good.
Director Wong Kar-Wai is best known for 2000's In the Mood for Love, but he has a whole string of critical and popular (with the art house crowd) successes to his name, including the elegiac Chungking Express and his haunting and elliptical masterpiece Ashes of Time. But 1988's As Tears Go By sits firmly in the tradition of Hong Kong gangster films, and shares many of those films' thematic concerns. Honor, even if it is the slightly perverse criminal version, is the perpetually put-upon Fly's goal in life. He's ashamed that he couldn't afford a better wedding for Site, and the constant goading by his peers makes him determined to prove himself. And it's in his relationship with both Site and Wah that the theme of brotherhood comes to the fore. When Fly's severely beaten by Tony and his cronies as revenge for Fly smashing Tony's car, it's once again up to Wah to save him, in spite of the horrific consequences for himself. No matter how much trouble Fly gets into, and even though he realizes he's dragging his brother down and tells him to leave, Wah sticks by his little brother.
While As Tears Go By may draw on genre conventions, it contains many elements that would inform Wong's later and more personal films. Wah's abandonment of Mabel and refusal to commit to Ngor, which he blames on his job, will find a fuller realization in the character of the lothario Yuddy in his very next film, Days of Being Wild. His relationship with Ngor is tenuous, moving forward by fits and starts, and on some level, both characters realize that it will never be complete. This theme of doomed love would take center stage in many of Wong's best works, and may indeed be the guiding principal of his entire oeuvre.
This first feature by Wong is his only film not shot by Chris Doyle, whose importance to the look of Wong's later works cannot be overestimated. Doyle's moody and elegiac cinematography is the perfect counterpart to Wong's tales of longing and loss, but his style may very well have been inappropriate for what is at its heart a gangster movie. Andrew Lau shoots in a more straightforward visual style, although many of the action sequences are done with a stroboscopic effect, a quick succession of partially-blurred images, a technique that Doyle would adopt for Chungking Express.
As Tears Go By was both a commercial and critical success in Hong Kong, and gave 1990s superstar Maggie Cheung's career a much-needed boost. Her performance is good, if a bit tentative, but she's far outmatched by Andy Lau and Jacky Cheung, both of whom would work with Wong in the future.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Don't be put off by the beginning of the film. The first few minutes of the source print have flaws including lots of speckles and frame jumps at every cut, but things quickly improve. The speckles never disappear completely, and there's a lot of grain in the image, but black levels are good, and skin tones look accurate, despite the slightly under-saturated color.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The sound is okay, with limited dynamic range, but no harshness, and the annoying synthesizer score and bad HK pop songs come through clearly.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Days of Being Wild, Fallen Angels, Happy Together
Packaging: Keep Case
The principal bonus is the four trailers, one for the feature, and three for other Wong Kar-Wai films released by Kino. They're all nonanamorphic, in a variety of aspect ratios, and none of them looks very good. Most of the source prints are fairly heavily speckled, and the black levels and color fidelity are poor. However, some of them do include shots that aren't in the completed films.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsArt house favorite Wong Kar-Wai's first feature is entrenched firmly in Hong Kong gangster movie genre conventions, but contains elements that would inform many of his later, more fully-realized works. The transfer is reasonably good, and a few relevant extras are thrown in to boot.
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