(1988) dir Wong Kar-wai
Back in the early 1990’s I got into Hong Kong film, which was a great time to get into it, a true heydey of cinema, a modern studio-system packed with directoral, writing, producing talent and a cavalcade of genuine movie stars. This era in Hong Kong actually seemed to have started in the early 1980’s and was certainly petered out by the end of the 1990’s, but it left behind an excellent catalogue of great films and established talent that still continue to develop and evolve, not just within Hong Kong, but in world cinema. And its influence continues to pervade.
That said, director Wong Kar-wai never really fit into the system exactly. His films typically walked a different line from many of those contemporaries, seeming more influenced by the French New Wave in aesthetics, far less concerned with constructing linear narratives, and ultimately shooting for aesthetic, developing mood and tone, visually and emotionally, while lingering extensively on love and the longing and lonely.
I’ve seen almost all of Wong Kar-wai’s films, some more extensively than others with few exceptions. As Tears Go By, for some reason, is one that I had never gotten around to seeing. His first film, it is actually much more akin to the films and genre staples in Hong Kong of its period. Starring Andy Lau and Jackie Cheung and the ever-beautiful Maggie Cheung, the story follows Lau, a pretty cool-as-a-cucumber lower tier criminal who is only starting to realize that his life hasn’t amounted to anything. Jackie Cheung, his out-of-control wannabe sidekick, is bringing him down, full of pride, but helplessly small potatoes. And when Lau meets Maggie Cheung, a good girl from outside of Hong Kong, he begins to understand what life could be for him. Of course, things don’t necessarily turn out well.
It’s easy to see some early flashes of Wong Kar-wai’s style here, using popular music (a Canto-Pop version of “Take My Breath Away” and the title of the film which seems to have been taken from a Rolling Stones song), interesting visuals and compositions that are more arty than standard production fare, and a tale of love and longing. But the film is much more a traditional Hong Kong crime film with its romantic leanings, the brotherhood of Jackie Cheung and Lau, the romanticized sensibility of “being a hero for one day”, the thug life portrayed. While by his next film, Days of Being Wild (1990), Wong Kar-Wai will have come much more into his own, this film is a solid, successful picture on its own merits, more conventional than one expects from Wong Kar-wai, but quite a stand-out on its own.
It’s interesting to look at because Wong Kar-wai has seemingly developed into a creative rut of sorts as I noted when I wrote about his most recent film, My Blueberry Nights (2007). And while his latest new feature film, a re-make of Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai seems to have a later release date than when I last looked, I am excited to see that he is re-releasing Ashes of Time (1994), one of my favorite of his films, a restored version. That is cool news indeed.