Playing with narrative time liberally—or perhaps too haphazardly—Wong’s largely incoherent if artfully-conceived martial arts film works best as an evocation of old places and old romances.
Dir. Wong Kar Wai
2008 | Hong Kong | Drama/Action | 94 mins | 1.85:1 | Mandarin & Cantonese
NC16 (passed clean) for some violence
Cast: Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Brigitte Lin, Jackie Cheung, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau
Plot: Swordsman Ou-yang Feng was once a ruthless bounty hunter for whoever would pay. Now leaving the killing to others, he owns a desert inn where he spends the day pining after his brother’s wife.
Awards: Won Golden Osella – Best Cinematography & Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice)
International Sales: Fortissimo Films
Subject Matter: Moderate – Yearning, Time, Memory
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Viewed: Oldham Theatre – Wong Kar Wai Retrospective
If I were to sum up Ashes of Time Redux, it’s a film about several beautiful men and women in ancient China with murderous intentions who are either desperate for love or want to rid themselves of love.
The first half-hour or so literally sees the all-star cast (consisting of Leslie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, and many more) murmuring to each other about killing this or that person. After a while, one might find these hush-hush conversations bemusing.
In between, there are stylised if sometimes unexpectedly violent martial arts fight scenes, brief as they are, like strategically-timed infotainment breaks that showcase the latest techniques and tricks in cinematography and editing.
I’m, of course, making light of Wong Kar-Wai’s artfully-conceived wuxia film, which somehow grows on you as it continues forth, that is, if you are able to surrender yourself to the visual poetry of colours and natural landscapes, the sometimes awkward wall-to-wall music scoring, and the mournful narration about memories, regrets and longing.
“Some people don’t realise who they love until they’ve left that person behind.”
I’ve not seen the 1994 original, so I can’t compare if the Redux version is better, though I’m assuming that this is Wong’s ‘director’s cut’, pieced together out of necessity after the loss of the original prints.
For more mainstream fans of martial arts cinema, this will be too incoherent to satisfy; likewise for fans of the auteur, it may feel like an anomaly in his extraordinary filmography.
Whether Redux is under-appreciated or a misstep is still debatable by critics and fans alike, but one thing’s for sure, as an evocation of old places and old romances, Wong nails his mythologising of these emotionally-troubled swordsmen and their milieu in spirit, even if his playing with narrative time feels too liberal—or haphazard—to begin with.