PictureAs Tears Go By comes to Blu-ray in its theatrically correct aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded using the AVC codec.
As with many Wong Kar Wai features, the picture is on the softer side. This has never stood out too far, but the added resolution of Blu-ray really makes this far more noticeable. Unlike the recent release of Chungking Express (supervised by Wai), the image here is almost over the verge of tolerance in terms of its dulled edges. Whereas the aforementioned title had a pleasant amount of grain to be seen, here it is often conspicuous by its absence.
The print, for the most part, looks to be fairly clean - something that is especially note worthy given the tendency for Hong Kong films of yesteryear to be ill treated and stored poorly. The few instances when specks become apparent are during the slow motion shots and when the frame is paused.
The colour scheme is well realised, with the fluorescent lighting that tinges the picture during the tense gang confrontations having a vivid nature, yet not overpowering to the point of becoming sickening. Usually the lighting is a mild blue/green but there is a flitting sight of a deep red once to signify danger (much as in Scorsese's Mean Streets). All are capably handled and when the sun is eventually brought into the lens, it is warm and fresh and goes some way to proving just how much of the previous over-saturation and muted colours is attributable to artistic intention on the behalf of the director.
Overall, dependant upon how picky one is will ultimately reflect how good one can consider the image to be. The skin tones are life-like and the colours are adequate representations of the emotions of the characters on screen. However, it is hard to get away from the fact that there seems to be a scatter gun effect to the softness. Some frames appear little more than an upscaled DVD whereas others push towards what we have come to expect on the Blu-ray format. In truth, none really have the crispness or pop that is expected, but Wai has always leant more towards this type of painted vision. What seems less like Wai though is the uneven grain - he has long made great art house pictures that smoulder with a noir essence due to their grainy style. Here, the image looks cleaned in some way and doesn't truly benefit.
This is still a decent end result in many ways, particularly considering the fact that this is a lower budget Hong Kong piece from the eighties. However when compared to the Criterion release of Chungking Express this is clearly the weaker sibling.
SoundSound options on the disc are few, but we do get the benefit of a lossless track. The three choices are; Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and finally Mandarin Dolby Stereo 2.0. Understandably, I decided to focus on the DTS-HD Master Audio choice.
The good news is that the score, replete with the standard Chinese woodwind instruments that seem to be ever present in Hong Kong gangster pieces, is well realised. It fills the soundstage and the high frequency of the whistling noise is sharp and yet tails off with nice delicacy. The drums that accompany the many moments of action have a nice depth to them and use the bass of the track well, remaining tight and concise.
The problem with the mix is primarily one of balance and utilisation. When needed, the rears offer little to truly add effect and all too often simply pump the equivalent of white noise in artistic terms into the space. It is hard to pick out individual sounds form them and they are simply underused when such occasions as Wah and Fly running through the streets from their pursuers really should call them into the action. I also felt the dialogue track wavered slightly, from pushing further into the face of the viewer, to retreating at points.
Essentially though, this is about as good as the film has sounded on a home format. Nit picking is fine when comparing to the likes of the Bourne trilogy, but the majority of small scale foreign offerings would never match up to that tour de force of sonics in even the most basic departments. Perhaps not great, but one has to wonder how many releases this film will get and if it'll ever receive any better in the near future - I doubt it.
Consisting of three trailers - As Tears Go By, Assembly and Perhaps Love. Meagre, but at least they are in 1080p.
VerdictAs Tears Go By comes to Blu-ray as an odd conundrum. Personally, as a long time fan of Hong Kong and Eastern cinema, I wouldn't be without it. However, for those simply wishing to dip their toes into the waters, there are better places to begin your dalliance with some of the finest film-making in the world. The film itself is one that simply has to be within the collection of any self respecting aficionado of movies from the East or Wong Kar Wai himself. It is a striking piece that pushes hard to evoke emotions and occasionally slips up because of this. It shows a director still learning his craft and serves well to highlight the evolution of his style. The moments with the most attention laden on them are primarily those of emotional turmoil - clearly even at this early point in his career Wong Kar Wai was sure of the themes he wished to focus on. It is telling that the romance adds up to a minor part of the film in many ways with regards screen time, yet the only kiss during the duration is emblazoned across the cover art and is an oft seen image of the film. The central crime element is a fairly standard affair with only brief instances of real flourish, though nothing to mach the stellar works of Lam and Woo from around the same era.
Picture and sound are both very subjective matters. For those who've become accustomed to the visual style of Wai it will no doubt be an easier pill to swallow but for those unaccustomed, it may appear a let-down. Whichever way, it is still an image that looks somewhat smudged and doesn't truly shine on Blu-ray as other films from the East can due to their vibrancy. Audio is flat by Hollywood standards but still far and above the tracks that have been served in the past that have had unwelcome hiss and poor voice reproduction. Extras are nigh on non-existent but at least the trailers may give those wanting to delve a little further into Eastern cinema a couple of ideas of what to look out for.
A fine film, that perhaps is still over credited by some simply because of the luminance of the director, brought to Blu-ray with a glass half empty/half full production. Fans who've spent years with poor quality imported DVDs will no doubt have a higher tolerance for softened visuals (even by Wai's standards) and the like, but others may not be so forgiving. Personally, I wouldn't be without this film on one format or another and this suits me just fine.
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