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As Tears Go By is a 1988 Hong Kong action drama film that was the directorial debut of Wong Kar-wai and starred Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung and Jacky Cheung. Critics have compared the film to Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets,[2] as the central plot revolves around a small-time triad (Lau) trying to keep his friend (Cheung) out of trouble. The film was also screened at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, during Directors' Fortnight.[3]

As Tears Go By
As Tears Go By.jpg
MandarinWàngjiǎo Kǎmén
CantoneseWong6gok3 Kaa1mun4
LiterallyMong Kok Carmen
Directed byWong Kar-wai
Produced byAlan Tang
Written byJeffrey Lau
Wong Kar-wai
StarringAndy Lau
Maggie Cheung
Jacky Cheung
Music byDanny Chung
Teddy Robin
CinematographyAndrew Lau
Edited byCheung Pei-tak
Hai Kit-wai
William Chang (uncredited)
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]



The film centers around Wah (Lau), a mob enforcer who primarily deals with debt collection. His sai lo subordinate, Fly (Jacky Cheung) also works for the mob, but is less successful and not as well respected as Wah, frequently causing trouble and borrowing money he can't pay back. Out of the blue, Wah receives a call from his aunt, informing him that his younger cousin Ngor (Maggie Cheung), whom he has never met before, will be coming to stay with him in Hong Kong for the next few days. Ngor works at her family's restaurant on Lantau Island, but due to a malfunctioning lung, must come to Hong Kong for a medical procedure.

Soon after Ngor arrives at his apartment, Wah unexpectedly leaves 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 to her calls. Due to this, she aborted his baby, though he was unaware she was pregnant in the first place. 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 to out to a movie to make up for his behavior.

Meanwhile, in order to make money to pay off a loan to fellow gang member Tony (Man), 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 (Wong). After a chase through the streets, Fly and Site are caught and severely beat by members of Tony's gang. As Wah and Ngor are about to leave the apartment, Fly arrives bruised and bloody, carrying an unconscious Site. Wah and Ngor treat their wounds, which causes Ngor to question Wah's line of work. The next day, she returns to Lantau, leaving Wah a note asking him to come visit her sometime.

Wah meets with Tony to settle his debt with Fly. Tony says to Wah that if Fly wasn't his sai lo, he would already be dead. Unable to pay the debt interest, Wah steals the money from the owner of the establishment Tony was hired to protect instead. Insulted by Wah's behavior, Tony takes his grievance to Uncle Kwan, the mob boss. Kwan solves the argument by forcing Tony and Wah to accept a monthly payment compromise. Afterwards, 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. Fly hates his new job, but continues to work to please his dai lo. One day, Tony approaches Fly and insults him and his lowly profession. In retaliation, Fly wrecks Tony's car with a hammer and a propane tank, but Tony's gang promptly catches him and beats him near to death.

Meanwhile, Wah decides to visit Ngor. After arriving at her family's restaurant on Lantau, he learns that she was in Hong Kong for the day and will return that evening. Wah meets Ngor at the ferry terminal, but learns that she has begun seeing her doctor. They part ways and Wah, disheartened, boards the ferry back to Hong Kong. Realizing she made a mistake pushing him away, Ngor calls him asking to meet her back at the ferry terminal. Wah promptly returns to Lantau and they share a passionate kiss in a phone booth. Over the next couple of days, Wah helps out at the restaurant and the two continue to learn more about each other. Wah has to cut his visit short after receiving a call from Tony, who demands money in exchange for Fly's life.

After arriving at Tony's place, Wah surprises Tony by pulling a gun and forcing the barrel down his pants, threatening to blow apart Tony's penis and testicles. Tony gives into Wah's demands and lets Fly go. Wah and Fly convene in a bar and Wah urges Fly to return to his family in the countryside, an order which Fly refuses out of shame. Exiting the bar, they are cornered by Tony and his gang. Both Fly and Wah are severely beaten by the gang, but Tony lets them live. Fly leaves Wah, telling Wah to forget him because he has been a terrible sai lo. Too weak to pursue Fly, Wah manages to return to Lantau, where Ngor and her doctor treat his wounds. He recovers, and the two rekindle their love for each other.

Back in Hong Kong, Uncle Kwan gives Tony a job to assassinate an informant while he is being transported to court by the police. Tony is too afraid to do it, since it is essentially a suicide mission. Fly offers to take the job in order to earn the respect of the gang and humiliate Tony, whose thugs abandon him in disgust. Having received word that Fly has taken the job, Wah returns to confront Fly. His attempts to persuade Fly otherwise are in vain, and Fly manages to elude Wah while he is not looking. Wah arrives at the police station just as Fly is about to carry out the assassination. Fly pulls a gun and shoots the informant, but fails to kill him. Instead, he is shot and killed by the police. In response, 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.



Box officeEdit

During its initial Hong Kong theatrical run, As Tears Go By grossed HK$11,532,283. It remained as Wong Kar-wai's highest-grossing film in Hong Kong, and his only film to gross over HK$10 million, until the record was broken with the release of The Grandmaster in January 2013.

Awards and nominationsEdit

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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ "As Tears Go By". Retrieved 22 July 2011.
  2. ^ Mottram, James. "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 9888139290.
  4. ^ "As Tears Go By". Retrieved 23 July 2010.

External linksEdit