As Tears Go By (Wong Kar-wai / Hong Kong, 1988):
(Wong gok ka Moon; Wangjiao Kamen)

The template is A Better Tomorrow (and Mean Streets and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie), but the pinwheeling, phosphorescent spirit is undiluted Wong Kar-wai. Hong Kong here is an underworld of vendettas and torpedoes, neon is slashed into swaths of color and people have names like Snooker King and Big Mouth Kay; "FUTURE" glows in one screen-filling sign, ceremonial music emanates out of a boom box. Andy Lau is the low-level hood whose tentative salvation from gangland scamming comes from the countryside in the form of Maggie Cheung, his weak-lunged cousin. The uproarious street theater revolves around Lau's protégé (Jacky Cheung), a hothead fuck-up who brings in the story's obligatory brotherly bond and precipitates the hero's dilemma. The auteur is himself suspended between stools, the testosterone of '80s triad demolition jobs versus the melancholy sense of ephemeral emotion of Days of Being Wild onward. Wong handles both poles fantastically. When his pal turns up bloodied after a brawl, Lau steps out for revenge in a throbbing set-piece of blue filters, crimson steam and smudged slo-mo; elsewhere, a dissolve from a jukebox playing "Take My Breath Away" in Cantonese leads to the couple's transcendental make-out session in a telephone booth, their kiss atomizes the screen. The score favors pounding synthesizers over Nat "King" Cole, tough-guy mystique is shouted about -- the hero must stand by his macho obligations, yet it's Cheung's lingering hurt as he takes off that fixates the camera. Wong's style is still emerging from the Hong Kong action genre, but would John Woo or Ringo Lam ever include a note of serendipitous grace (Lau bumping into a former flame while hiding from the rain, and suddenly experiencing a dizzying opening up of what is and what might have been) between shootouts? Cinematography by Lau Wai-keung. With Alex Man, William Chang, Kau Lam, and Ronald Wong.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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