As Tears Go By
Cast & Crew
Wong Kar Wai
Already stretched to breaking in a loyalty tug of war between Triad bosses and his loose cannon partner, Wah, a rising star in the HK underworld, finds himself saddled with beautiful, ailing country cousin Ngor. As an escalating test of wills with a stubborn debtor explodes into bloodshed and a mob turncoat instigates a ruthless police crackdown, Wah's growing fascination with Ngor becomes his last chance for escape from a violent past and a dubious future.
Wong Kar Wai
William Chang Suk-ping
Wong Kar Wai
Teddy Robin Kwan
Ivi Michelle Sims
The Wong Kar-Wai Collection
His debut feature, As Tears Go By, earns much of its mileage from the dynamic teaming of Hong Kong superstars Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau, and Jacky Cheung in an openly acknowledged riff on Martin Scorses's Mean Streets, complete with soulful music interludes (not surprising given the Stones-inspired title), street violence, and pained romance. Two triad members in Kowloon, capable but violence-prone Wah (Lau) and younger, impetuous Fly (Jacky Cheung), find their lives changed with the arrival of Wah's beautiful, sweet-natured cousin, Ngor (Maggie Cheung); as the two men go about their brutal daily business, Wah finds himself yearning for a better, more stable life. Beautifully shot and fascinating as a blueprint for the director's subsequent, less violent fare, As Tears Go By was generally lost in the deluge of flashy crime films pouring out of Hong Kong in the wake of A Better Tomorrow; indeed, when seen in context with later films the main attraction here is the delicate interplay of color, shadow, and the actors' carefully measured expressions rather than the occasional explosions of brutality.
However, all of this feels like a mere dry run compared to his next film and first bona fide classic, 1991's Days of Being Wild. All three stars return along with some significant new cast additions; equally significant is the first participation of regular cinematographer Christopher Doyle, now justifiably regarded as one of the best in the business. Set in 1960, the multi-layered story begins with a fickle lothario, Yuddy (Leslie Cheung), picking up and then rejecting Su Lizhen (Maggie Cheung, playing perhaps the same character seen later in In the Mood for Love), who takes the breakup so badly she fails to see the far more worthwhile attentions of a well-intentioned policeman (Andy Lau) in her neighborhood. A mood piece par excellence, the film follows each character's path through a series of bittersweet disappointments and surprises, all accompanied by ravishing visuals and the director's skillful deployment of music to strike the perfect emotional counterpoint.
Both of these early titles look adequate but unspectacular on DVD, with anamorphic transfers similar to the ones seen previously on their Region 3 releases in Hong Kong. Blacks are a bit on the pale side, but colors are strong enough. Both prints are at least better than the ones circulating in repertory houses (HK films from this period are notoriously hard to see in decent condition), and the stereo audio sounds fine. (The Region 3 discs included forced and overamped 5.1 mixes, so the two-channel mix here is actually easier to endure.) Both discs include trailers for their respective films as well as Kino's future Wong Kar Wai releases, along with filmographies and still galleries.
In keeping with the welcome trend of studios cross-pollinating each other's DVD box sets to aid collectors, the Kino set includes one outside entry, Buena Vista's release of Chungking Express (1994), released earlier as a stand-alone title. A story in two interlocking halves, the film follows a pair of peculiar romances. Heartbroken cop He Qiwu, Officer 233 (House of Flying Daggers' Takeshi Kaneshiro), spends his spare hours ruminating over his ex-girlfriend and buying relevant cans of produce, while bewigged smugger Brigitte Lin is on the run after a double-cross sends her fleeing into the streets. Meanwhile checkout girl Faye (Faye Wang) becomes fascinated with lovelorn Police Officer 663 (Tony Leung) and uses access to his apartment key as a means to explore his inner life and take advantage of his surroundings while he's away. However, their separate lives are bound to collide and indeed do so in a most surprising manner. Though not the full-blown special edition this title deserves, the DVD is more than adequate with a sterling transfer (easily besting its earlier releases in other regions), a catchy 2.0 sound mix, the theatrical trailer, and for better or worse, wraparound segments featuring Quentin Tarantino, whose Rolling Thunder (a subsidiary of Miramax) released the film theatrically in the U.S. At least he's more sincere and subdued here than most of his other Rolling Thunder lectures, which come across like nails on a chalkboard. (See Curdled for one egregious example.)
Based on a story planned for but nixed from Chungking Express, the Kino staple Fallen Angels (1995) gets a desperately needed upgrade in their new special edition with a pleasantly clean and steady transfer that easily outdoes their prior, non-anamorphic edition. In the film, laissez-faire hitman Ming (Leon Lai Ming) has his assignments arranged by pretty agent Michele Reis, whom he never communicates with in person. His decision to duck out of the business coincides with the activities of a mute ex-con He Qiwu (same character name, same actor), whose affliction might be connected to the previous film. Serving as sort of a loose sequel, Fallen Angels is obviously a less free-spirited work given its subject matter but still brims with enough heady emotions in classic Wong Kar Wai style, all served up with the usual dollops of dazzling Doyle imagery (with a surprising emphasis on hand-held camerawork here) and judicious use of pop standards. Extras here are identical to the previous two Kino titles.
The only genuine special edition of the batch, 1997's Happy Together, is easily the director's most controversial title as it brought together two Hong Kong matinee idols and Wong Kar Wai staples, Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung, as a pair of emotionally tortured gay lovers, complete with an opening sex scene that sent hordes of schoolgirls into shock. An expatriate Hong Kong couple living in Buenos Aireas, Ho Po-wing (Cheung) and Lai Yiu-fai (Leung), finds the break-up process difficult to maintain when the former decides to become a hustler and ends up beaten and bruised, back in his ex-lover's arms. Despite the chipper title, this is probably the director's bleakest film; for some reason the transposition of his thwarted romantic leanings to a gay storyline comes off as catty and downbeat as the lovers squabble, moan, and essentially wallow in misery, unable to sever their ties. It's certainly in keeping with many real life relationships and both actors pull off their roles marvelously (despite Leung's misgivings about the content), but the end result proves to be more exhausting and despairing than insightful. On the other hand, it's commendable that the director never makes the common commercial mistake of stumbling into gay bathos (e.g., Philadelphia) or catty stereotyping (take your pick), making the film a curious almost-success that's commendable more for what it attempts than what it achieves. Fortunately the trademark cinematography and directorial style make this a must for the director's fans, and the DVD delivers with a greatly improved anamorphic transfer and a terrific 1999 one-hour documentary, "Buenos Aires Diaries," featuring tons of on-set footage and coverage of the various locations and participants from the film.
All in all, each film here looks as good as (or better than) it ever has on home video before, and even fans who already own Chungking Express by itself will still find the set a worthy upgrade. Of course, the fact that two of the films are new to American home video and essential viewing in and of themselves makes this a shoo-in for anyone with more than a passing interest in one of world cinema's most consistently adventurous and dynamic directorial talents.
For more information about The Wong Kar-Wai Collection, visit Kino International. To order The Wong Kar-Wai Collection, go to TCM Shopping.
by Nathaniel Thompson
The Wong Kar-Wai Collection
Released in United States December 1995
Released in United States May 1989
Released in United States May 1990
Released in United States September 1989
Re-released in United States May 2, 2008
Shown at Cannes Film Festival (International Critics Week) May 1989.
Shown at Seattle International Film Festival May 27-28, 1990.
Shown at Toronto Festival of Festivals September 9 & 14, 1989.
Feature directorial debut for screenwriter Wong Kar-wai.
Restored print re-released in New York City May 2, 2008.
Began shooting November 1987.
Completed shooting April 1988.
Released in United States May 1989 (Shown at Cannes Film Festival (International Critics Week) May 1989.)
Released in United States May 1990 (Shown at Seattle International Film Festival May 27-28, 1990.)
Re-released in United States May 2, 2008 (New York City)
Released in United States September 1989 (Shown at Toronto Festival of Festivals September 9 & 14, 1989.)
Released in United States December 1995 (Shown in New York City (American Museum of the Moving Image) as part of program "Rolling Thunder Presents: The Films of Wong Kar-Wai" December 9-10, 1995.)