- WKW’s triad Mean Streets update marks his promising debut (32 years old) . The opening frame is neon light on the left of the screen– bouncing off a wall of televisions showing a blue sky on the right. Andy Lau plays Wah- the Charlie/Harvey Keitel character. Quickly WKW shows Wah sleeping all day and waking up at night. He is nocturnal- as it should be in the world of WKW.
- Picking Scorsese as the template for your debut seems like a good idea all around. The title of the film is from a song by The Rolling Stones (which are not only featured in Mean Streets– but Scorsese seems to have a patent on) and an exciting early scene and brawl is set in a pool hall (just like Meant Streets) with WKW’s camera picking up the glow from the green slate of the pool table. This scene is frenetically shot by handheld cameras— the very next scene is this wonderful slow motion gangland action sequence. Even if the premise of the film and the screen violence, was not uncommon in 1980s Hong Kong cinema, the skill involved in these scenes is anything but routine.
- WKW would come to be known for his unfulfilled love stories, ennui, and there is not as much here (the Maggie Cheung portion of the film) as we would all like —the focus is often on Wah’s “brother” Fly (Jack Cheung). Fly and Ngor (Maggie’ character) are pulling at Andy Lau’s Wah in different directions. Fly is Johnny Boy. He seems to have a death wish- “he’s like a time bomb”, he owes money all over the city and taunts powerful gangsters- Wah constantly has to help him. Andy Lau and Maggie are superb here- sadly- Jacky Cheung’s work is not on their level.
- A neon-soaked pink rooftop exchange at the 32-minute mark.
- A long music video segment to “Take My Breath Away”. This is two years after Top Gun—Wah even wears Ray-Ban’s for much of the film. This is a nice excuse for WKW to display his cinematic talents with another lyrical exhibition of his slow motion prowess, this time a kiss in a phone booth.
- An inspired composition at the 60-minute mark with Fly looking up at the Tony gangster. It is a low angle shot with a neon billboard as a backdrop.
- WKW, even in his debut, has stylistically infused stretches (including the action climax) of isolating and contrasting the foreground and background and playing them at different speeds. This use of step processing is a focal point of the slow motion scenes and the climax.
- Recommend / Highly Recommend border
This film is like a mix of John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow crossed with Scorsese’s Mean Streets crossed by Jim Jarmusch Stranger Than Paradise all with the trademark WKW style (albeit to a lesser extent then what would come later).
I love the entire “take my breath away” scene, the “I found that glass” (cue to the music) is so WKW, quirky romance
Love the use of blue, WKW would use an amazing blue/green palette in Days of Being Wild (1990)
I feel like this film was WKW perhaps being a little compromised in the sense that it is obvious he is far less interested in the traditional John Woo gangster story line and far more interested in the ennui/existentialism themes that WKW fans would come to know and love him for. With that said I love this film more with each viewing
Nice stuff, I took this down to a HR film myself around June or so.
I’m not going to harp on you if you haven’t, but I was wondering if you’ve had a chance to see The Grandmaster again? Hopefully if you did it was the 130-minute Chinese release.