[director Wong Kar Wai]
Essentially a variation on the good old Mean Streets formula film, Wong Kar Wai’s directorial debut features a couple of great things amidst a rather predictable plot line. It has one of Andy Lau’s best performances ever in it, a heavily sexualized performance filled with post-teen angst. It features some beautiful, tremulous love scenes between Andy and Maggie Cheung. And it features a Hong Kong never seen before in film–a gritty, rain-washed kind of negative space, where the only people who exist are Wong’s characters. It has the solitary feel of all of Wong’s early works (including this film, Days of Being Wild, and Ashes of Time), and in that it seems to falter: there is no sustainable life on these “”mean streets.”” Wong gives us a world devoid of people, and, in depriving us of an existing social context for the action (something much more apparent in the similar Andy Lau vehicle, A Moment of Romance), makes his characters own actions have less impact. When Andy tries to assassinate someone for money, the assassination is so abstract, devoid of setting and character information, that it loses a great deal of its signifigance and power.
Wong’s first film has some great performances, but it is lacking the superb detail of his later work.