As Tears Go By Review

The Film

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When viewed from the perspective of what Wong Kar Wai was to achieve later in his career, As Tears Go By is a disappointing film. Its principal draw is as the début of a film-maker who has displayed a mastery over form and feeling and whose films are quite unlike anyone else's. My disappointment comes from how little his first film differentiates itself from the mainstream, and how it covers territory much like some of his previous writing assignments such as Flaming Brothers. Most of all, this is a project that seems to lack passion or inspiration.

As Tears Go By is a little bit HK triad movie, a little bit low budget Coppola or Scorcese, and it resembles many of the generic vehicles that came out of the eighties and nineties as less talented film-makers followed the success of Ringo Lam and John Woo. Seen after the greater works of the director's career, the resemblance to bad genre rip-offs and shadows of Hollywood product is distressing, yet it needs to be remembered that this kind of story is where Wong learnt his trade.

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The straightforward narrative involves a small time hustler, played by Andy Lau, his "little brother" and cohort, Fly, played by Jacky Cheung, and Lau's cousin and love interest, Maggie Cheung. These three characters form a kind of love triangle with the growing romance normalising Lau but challenging his fraternal love for his "little brother". In fact, Lau is given lines to speak to Fly that read as close to being homoerotic and it is their brotherhood which is affirmed by the testosterone filled finale above that of Lau's redemption through romance.

This single strand and easy to follow off the peg plot leaves the drama quite bare. Dialogue is functional and not prone to the reverie of Wong's later work, and it is easy to see the piece as something like a shallow genre retread. There is little in the characterisation or performances to set the piece apart, and in fact the OTT histrionics that filled the weaker movies of the heroic bloodshed type are even more exaggerated here as the protagonists literally attempt emasculation in their manly battles.

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Stylistically there are some time lapse sequences, some deliberate comet trails of the moving camera and rare glimpses of expressionistic lighting, and without these touches the film would be pretty hard to appreciate. The straightforward story, the unambitious themes and the predictable development leave the piece seeming unremarkable, and, if anything, his début underlines how much Wong's work would develop by the time he completed his second film, Days of Being Wild.

Transfer and Sound

As a hi-def transfer, As Tears Go By is of similar standard as the Days of Being Wild Blu-ray which we reviewed here previously. Whereas that film was shot rather softly Wong's début was not, and this means that the image here is sharper, even if detail remains elusive. For instance, view the screenshot of the happy couple below and look at Maggie's face - either she has an ungallant amount of concealer on or the detail just isn't there. Similarly the skin tones on her forearm look blotchy and the contour of the arm is poorly defined. Contrast has to deal with the fact that the lighting of a lot of scenes renders blacks with bluish tones so that hair is often dark purple, but the grading of the darker sequences seems subtle and well managed, and I noticed little in the way of boosting to crank up the whites or the colours. The print is clearly worn and this leads to an often unclean appearance, but this doesn't look too bad overall.

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The sound is available through a lossless master audio track and there is plenty of background hiss, hum and pops to notice. Distortion is not an issue but the state of the sound is pretty worn and whether the creation of a lossless 5.1 mix does the film any favours I am not sure. Channels get covered but dialogue is always front on, some effects sound badly integrated and the attempt to create a surround experience is not that successful overall. A 5.1 mix is offered, along with a stereo Mandarin track, as standard def options, but I did find myself wishing for a simple original soundtrack. The English subs are reasonable with a few funny choices of language - "studly" rather than "manly" at one point.

Discs and Special Features

This is a region free single layer release with a simple menu streaming scenes from the film over basic and easily selected choices. The extras extend to three high definition trailers for Perhaps Love and Assembly in addition to the main feature. These trailers do not carry English subs.


Definitely one for the converted and the package would be improved with better subtitles and a lossless original audio track, but this is very well worth the cash if you are a fan of the director.

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out of 10
Category Blu-Ray Review

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