As Tears Go By has some interesting ideas and is an adequate first film, but, ultimately, is only slightly more interesting than any number of similar pictures made in the wake of John Woo's seminal 1986 trendsetter A Better Tomorrow.
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Ostensibly a conventional tale of triad loyalty, As Tears Go By announced the presence of a genuine Hong Kong new wave—as well as an ambitious cineaste.
Some of the editing has a giddy, overeager quality, the natural excess of a young prodigy, but when the action and the tempo align, the results are exhilarating: an early brawl in a pool hall fairly leaps off the screen.
Right out of the gate—and even working within the modern Hong Kong gangster genre—Wong Kar-wai burst onto the screen as a strikingly unique talent. This is clearly a filmmaker less interested in plot and dialogue than he is in movement, music, and color—no matter the time, place, or story.
Easily summarized, the plot is entirely secondhand.
As Tears Go By doesn’t measure up to Wong’s later classics, such as In the Mood for Love (2000) and Chungking Express (1994), but it shows a master in the making.
This sounds like a fairly standard debut. But Wong smothers the story with tremendous style. Some directors give you a healthy ratio of mashed potatoes to gravy. Wong seems not at all to care for the potatoes.