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December 04, 2005

As Tears Go By

Wong Gok Ka Moon
Wong Kar-Wai - 1988
Kino Video DVD

It was impossible for me not to think of Martin Scorcese during the first brawl in Wong Kar-Wai's debut film, As Tears Go By. As the film progressed, I kept on thinking of Mean Streets. After doing a bit of Googling, I found that other critics saw similarities as well. Wong has even spoken of his admiration for Scorsese.

Andy Lau plays Harvey Keitel to Jacky Cheung's Robert De Niro. Maggie Cheung has an easily treated lung disease compared to Amy Robinson's epilepsy. There is none of the conflicted Catholicism of Scorcese. While Lau and Cheung talk about leaving the gangster life behind, it would be a few years before Wong would present characters exploring their existential delemmas, such as Tony Leung's cop in Chunking Express. While Keitel's relationship with Robinson was fragile because of her illness, the biggest problem Lau has with Cheung is primarily geographic. The emphasis is on Lau's relationship with Cheung, and their relationship with the local "Godfather" and another small time gangster. The volitility of the male characters is more characteristic of Scorsese than Wong.

Visually the film hints at the future stylization of Wong's films. Cinematographer Lau Wai-Keung, also known as Andrew Lau, later worked on Chunking Express. Much of the visual influence here is Sam Peckinpah by way of John Woo, with a slow motion bullet ballet. The music used was contemporary 1988 Canto-pop, featuring a Chinese language version of Berlin's "Take My Breath Away".

There was a shock in seeing Maggie Cheung look almost embryonic. She was 24 at the time, with several films to her credit. She looks not quite formed, her face appearing like a blank slate yet to be better defined by the roles about to come her way. At 27, Andy Lau was still somewhat babyfaced, and sometimes looked too delicate to be a street hood.

1988, the year that the Scorsese influenced Tears was released, was also when one of Martin Scorsese's most personal projects, The Last Temptation of Christ his theaters. While it is something of a generalization, one could argue that Scorsese, who has mentioned John Cassavetes as an influence, would make films that tended to be less personal and more stylistically classical in his films following that date. Conversely, Wong took up Cassavetes' mantle to make films with greater degrees of improvisation and less regard to the traditional narrative.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 4, 2005 09:58 PM