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As Tears Go By (film)

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As Tears Go By
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese旺角卡門
Simplified Chinese旺角卡门
Literal meaningMong Kok Carmen
Directed byWong Kar-wai
Written by
Produced byAlan Tang
CinematographyAndrew Lau
Edited byCheung Pei-tak
Hai Kit-wai
William Chang (uncredited)
Music byDanny Chung
Teddy Robin
Distributed byKino International
Release date
  • 9 June 1988 (1988-06-09)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryHong Kong
Box officeHK$11,532,283
(Hong Kong)
(United States)[1]

As Tears Go By is a 1988 Hong Kong action crime drama film starring Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung and Jacky Cheung. The film was the directorial debut of Wong Kar-wai, and was inspired by Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets.[2] The central plot revolves around a small-time triad member trying to keep his friend out of trouble. The film was screened at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, during International Critics' Week.[3]


Wah is a mob enforcer who primarily deals with debt collection. His subordinate, Fly, is less successful and not as well respected as Wah. Fly frequently causes trouble and borrows money he can't pay back. Out of the blue, Wah receives a call from his aunt, informing him that his younger cousin Ngor, whom he has never met, will be coming to stay with him in Hong Kong for the next few days. Ngor, who works at her family's restaurant on Lantau Island, must come to Hong Kong for a medical procedure.

Soon after Ngor arrives at his apartment, Wah has to leave to help Fly collect a debt. After the job, Wah goes to see his girlfriend, Mabel, who dumps him. Because he had been so distant and unresponsive, she had aborted his baby. Wah had not even been aware she was pregnant in the first place and reacts badly. Wah stumbles home angry and drunk, but when Ngor tries to console him later that night, he becomes very aggressive and threatens to throw her out. The next morning, Wah apologizes to Ngor and offers to take her out to a movie to make up for his behavior.

In order to make money to pay off a loan to a fellow gang member, Tony, Fly makes an unreasonably high bet in a game of snooker. When he realizes there is no chance he can win or pay his debt, he makes a run for it with his friend Site. After being chased through the streets, Fly and Site are caught and severely beaten by members of Tony's gang. As Wah and Ngor are about to leave the apartment, Fly arrives, bruised and bloody and carrying an unconscious Site. Wah and Ngor treat their wounds, and Ngor starts to question Wah's line of work. The next day, she returns to Lantau, leaving Wah a note asking him to come to visit her sometime.

Wah meets with Tony to settle Fly's debt. Tony says to Wah that if Fly wasn't his friend he would already be dead. Unable to pay the interest on the debt, Wah steals the money from the owner of the establishment Tony was hired to protect. Insulted by Wah's behavior, Tony takes his grievance to Uncle Kwan, the mob boss, who forces Tony and Wah to accept a monthly payment compromise. Afterward, Kwan tells Wah to get Fly under control before he gets himself killed. Accepting that Fly is not cut out for mob work, Wah gets him a legitimate job selling fishballs from a food cart.

After accidentally meeting Mabel and finding out she is now married, Wah decides to visit Ngor. Arriving at her family's restaurant in Lantau, he learns that she is in Kowloon for the day and will return that evening. Wah meets Ngor at the ferry terminal and learns that she has begun seeing her doctor. Over the next couple of days, Wah helps out at the restaurant and his relationship with Ngor evolves. Meanwhile, Tony visits Fly to insult him and his new job. Fly wrecks Tony's car in retaliation, but Tony's gang promptly catches him and beats him near to death. Wah has to cut his visit with Ngor short, after receiving a call from Tony demanding money in exchange for Fly's life.

Arriving at Tony's place, Wah surprises Tony by threatening him. Tony gives in to Wah's demands and lets Fly go. Wah urges Fly to return to his family in the countryside, which Fly refuses to do. Leaving the bar, they are attacked by Tony and his gang and severely beaten. Fly leaves Wah, telling Wah to forget him because he has been a terrible friend. Wah manages to return to Lantau where Ngor and her doctor treat his wounds. He recovers, and the two rekindle their relationship.

Back in Hong Kong, Uncle Kwan gives Tony a job to assassinate an informant. Tony is afraid to do the job since it is essentially a suicide mission. Fly offers to take the job in order to humiliate Tony, whose thugs abandon him in disgust. Hearing Fly has taken this job, Wah returns to confront him, and attempts in vain to persuade Fly not to do it. Wah arrives at the police station just as Fly is about to carry out the assassination. Fly shoots the informant but fails to kill him. Instead, he is shot and killed by the police. Wah grabs Fly's gun and kills the informant, finishing the job. As Wah is gunned down, he thinks of his first kiss with Ngor.



Home Media[edit]

The film debuted on the Blu-ray format in the United States on January 20, 2009. The disc, released by MegaStar, has since gone out of print.[4]

The film was released on Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection on March 23, 2021 in a collection of 7 Wong Kar-wai films.[5]

Box office[edit]

During its initial Hong Kong theatrical run, As Tears Go By grossed HK$11,532,283. Until the release of The Grandmaster in January 2013, it was Wong Kar-wai's highest-grossing film in Hong Kong.


A retrospective review for The New York Times finds that "As Tears Go By heralds a new vision not yet in perfect focus."[6]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Awards and nominations
Ceremony Category Recipient Outcome
8th Hong Kong Film Awards Best Film As Tears Go By Nominated
Best Director Wong Kar-wai Nominated
Best Actor Andy Lau Nominated
Best Actress Maggie Cheung Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Jacky Cheung Won
Alex Man Nominated
Best Cinematography Andrew Lau Nominated
Best Film Editing Cheung Pei-tak Nominated
Best Art Direction William Chang Won
Best Original Film Score Danny Chung Nominated
25th Golden Horse Awards Best Director Wong Kar-wai Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "As Tears Go By". BoxOfficeMojo.com. Retrieved 22 July 2011.
  2. ^ Mottram, James (7 December 2014). "Wong Kar-Wai interview: the revered film director on returning to his first love - kung fu". The Independent. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  3. ^ Bettinson, Gary (2014). The Sensuous Cinema of Wong Kar-wai: Film Poetics and the Aesthetic of Disturbance. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. p. xvi. ISBN 978-9888139293.
  4. ^ "As Tears Go by Blu-ray Release Date January 20, 2009".
  5. ^ "World of Wong Kar Wai Blu-ray Release Date March 23, 2021".
  6. ^ Lee, Nathan (2 May 2008). "Struck by Love in a Moody Underworld". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 13 July 2023.

External links[edit]