Connect with us


World of Wong Kar-wai: As Tears Go By



Wong Kar-wai is, first and foremost, a product, proponent, and perpetuator of the Hong Kong New Wave. From the capitalistic and greed-driven depiction of Hong Kong to the pinkish-hued red neon lighting, Wai’s first film, As Tears Go By (1988), is a beautiful mix between old and new. The plot entails Wah and Ngor falling in love against the backdrop of Hong Kong and mainland China, while Wah’s friend, Fly, escalates tensions in the city’s underworld. Blending his directorial sensibilities with those of the filmmakers of Hong Kong’s First New Wave, Wong Kar-wai reveals how Hong Kong liberates the human soul as much as it does suffocate it.

The most obvious of Kar-wai’s inspirations in As Tears Go By is Hong Kong filmmaker Allen Fong, and in particular, his 1983 film Ah Ying. In that film, about a young woman caught between a future career in film and her parents fish market business, Fong uses red neon lighting, similar to Kar-wai, in a reflection of the yearning for love and connection in a Hong Kong that is caught in a cycle of conflict around its ideological, national inconsistencies of the 1980s. Yet Kar-wai takes this further, complementing the lighting with the recurring motif of a Cantonese version of “Take My Breath Away”, adding in a layer that the increasingly globalized, commercialized Hong Kong creates the illusion of connection, but rather, as indicated by the gorgeous opening shot, the natural connections we can have are mere reflections of the distorted, postmodern world Hong Kong has become. Kar-wai has a real understanding of what led to Hong Kong and its cinema, to be what is in 1988, elevating the previous New Wave by creating a cinematic language unique to Kar-wai and Hong Kong.

As Tears Go By Dinner Scene

Kar-wai’s recurrent use of slowed-down framerates and brilliant use of negative space compounds the isolation the city breeds while also evoking the phenomenological response of when those voids are filled and the rushing sensations of a meaningful connection with someone else. In this sense, Kar-wai is taking the image of Hong Kong during the national cinema’s first new wave and manipulating it, a visual language steeped in history yet forward-thinking in it the attempt for not just the characters to connect, but from filmmaker to the audience. There is a lyricism that speaks to the lonely person in us all.

At its core, As Tears Go By is effective in its resolution. Most of the film can struggle to find the balance between Wah’s relationship and his connection to the gangster underworld. Still, the end of the film resolves the two by correlating the love and sense of self-betterment of Wah’s character to being the very thing that Hong Kong commodifies, with the veneer of pride and loyalty as a defence mechanism in the face of the city’s oppressiveness. With some brilliant editing and framerate compositional manipulation, the ending is emotionally powerful and suitably grim, once again subverting and extending upon the New Wave that predicated Kar-wai.

As Tears Go By

This is the first Wong Kar-wai film that I have seen. Yet, I feel as if I am primed for what his world asks of the viewer, the film a conflux of initial motifs in the Auteur’s career: time, loss, the necessity for connection and Hong Kong as a breeding ground for everything in between. Having heard much of what Wei’s oeuvre covers, it is refreshing and exciting to see a filmmaker honour the national cinema of what had come before to create something new, accessible, and impactful on the social and emotional level. Whether you have seen, other Wong Kar-wai films before As Tears Go By or not, after finishing the film, one cannot help but be excited for how the director’s visual and thematic style progresses, but more importantly, how his directorial debut is a time capsule for Hong Kong and its cinema.

As Tears Go By (1988) – IMDb

Ryan Collins, Author at Movie Marker

Just For You