Review: Wong Gok Ka Moon (As Tears Go By, 1988)

as tears go by

Cousins means something different in Hong Kong, right?

Written By: Jeffrey Lau & Kar Wai Wong
Directed By: Kar Wai Wong

I thought I had Wong Gok Ka Moon pegged a few different times, but it wasn’t until the very conclusion of the film that all the pieces came together for me. The storytelling in Wong Gok Ka Moon isn’t as smoky and hazy as what one will find in Kar Wai Wong’s later films. Wong Gok Ka Moon is a simpler told story with a much easier to follow narrative. But, Xiānshēng Wong has hidden the true core of his story, and hidden it so well that it’s easy to miss. Just when I thought Wong Gok Ka Moon had shown its true colors as a gangster film it would turn into a romance. Then the gangster element would reenter, and I was convinced the film was a tale of loyalty and lost love. Then I realized that love had been present all along, and that the love story in Wong Gok Ka Moon was not between Wah and Ngor, but rather Wah and Fly.

The ending is what really sold me on the love story that is Wong Gok Ka Moon. I read that Xiānshēng Wong isn’t happy with the ending of the film. This is one, but not the only, instance where I have to disagree with the director behind the film. I’m not sure if any other ending would have helped Wong Gok Ka Moon. Instead, an ending that didn’t appear to be as traditional would have taken away from the core love story in Wong Gok Ka Moon. The ending wouldn’t have worked if Wong Gok Ka Moon was a standard gangster story. In that case the ending would have been just what Xiānshēng Wong feared, trite and obvious. As it stands the ending to Wong Gok Ka Moon isn’t about loyalty or being a gangster, but love and the chaotic damage love can bring about.

There are flashes in Wong Gok Ka Moon of the visual panache that will come to define Xiānshēng Wong’s career. They are only flashes though, and I have to say that Wong Gok Ka Moon is easily the least visually interesting film I have seen from Xiānshēng Wong. That’s not to say it’s not a well made film in the visual sense. Wong Gok Ka Moon does look good and has some visual verve, but it simply pales in comparison to what we all know is to come.

Maggie Cheung, Jackie Cheung, and Andy Lau are all terrific in their roles. It was especially enjoyable to see a young Maggie Cheung, before she became the regal Maggie Cheung I’ve grown to love watch act. Cheung Nǚshì makes her small love story shine, and I’m not sure if I would have gotten as much as I did out of her character’s arc if Ngor were portrayed by a lesser actress. Wah and Fly are the focus of the film, as even the tender and worthwhile moments with Ngor eventually serve to highlight how Wah and Fly share a deeper and higher level of love. This is thanks in large part to the ability of Xiānshēng’s Lau and Cheung to portray a love between them that is always bubbling beneath the surface.

Wong Gok Ka Moon is the first film from Xiānshēng Wong and it’s a great first effort. The promise of what is to come is present, but Wong Gok Ka Moon itself is a finely made film. There are divergent stories in Wong Gok Ka Moon, but love is always the matter on the table. That’s what separates this gangster tale from most other modern gangster tales. In his freshman effort Xiānshēng Wong is already making waves and leaving a signature mark on the world of cinema that will never go away.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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2 responses to “Review: Wong Gok Ka Moon (As Tears Go By, 1988)

  1. I saw this film a few days ago as I’m doing an Auteurs piece on Wong Kar Wai right now. I just have a couple of more films and some shorts/commercials/videos to watch and hopefully have it out this month. BTW, have you seen The Grandmaster and which version? I saw the full-length 130-minute cut and the atrocious 108-minute U.S. cut.

  2. Haven’t seen any version of The Grandmaster yet. I’m waiting until it gets released on BD so I can see the original cut.

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