Published Oct 30, 2008Available for years only as a blurry bootleg, Wong Kar Wai has retooled his 1994 martial arts saga Ashes of Time for its premiere North American theatrical release. Yet "martial arts saga is a misleading description of the film, whose Sammo Hung-choreographed battles are choppy and impressionistic. Ashes of Time is a meditation on loss, loneliness and memory more in line with the dreamy sensibility of Wongs other films than with the Crouching Tiger and Hero comparisons its marketing campaign would like to make. Structurally complex even by Wongs standards, the film reveals many layers on repeat viewings.
Loosely based on Louis Chas epic martial arts novel The Eagle-Shooting Heroes, Wong ditches almost all but the character names. Ouyang Feng (the late Leslie Cheung) is a mercenary swordsman and Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung Ka Fai) is a rival. Their lives intertwine with a stream of wistful loners, played by actors who make loneliness look pretty (Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau, Brigitte Lin). They become interconnected via a dense narrative that spans the epic scope of space and time.
Not all of this will be clear on the first viewing but Wongs extraordinary visual sense and his evocative mood should be able to win over adventurous first-timers. For those already familiar with the film, this re-release provides an opportunity to discover things not apparent on first glance.
The Redux version is seven minutes shorter than the original, featuring enhanced sound and a spiffy opening credits sequence. Wongs cuts are improvements but are hardly essential; I hope the original version will be included as a DVD extra to allow audiences to appreciate the film in its original context.
Still, its nice to finally see Christopher Doyles cinematography in full, restored splendour. (Sony)