Ashes of Time: Redux (2008)

Dir. Wong Kar Wai
7/10

I don’t recommend this to Don, Jill, Joel, John or Larrilynn. As for the other idiots, I would guess Mitchell has the best chance of liking this, although Kevin, Grace, Penny and Chris would probably find something interesting in this. Wong is one of my favorite contemporary directors–I’ll see a film if he’s directing it, although I have to say that it took several films to get appreciate him.

If you do decide to see the film, I recommend seeing it on the big screen. It’s playing at Kahala now, but his films don’t last long in the theaters.

**
This film originally came out in 1994, but, from what I understand, the original prints were in danger of being irrevocably damaged, so Wong sought to restore the film and in the process redo it. I believe he changed scenes (edited different or added new ones?) and rescored the film, too. Reviewers have commented on the beauty of the film, but I was surprised to see filmstock quality, which looked damaged and old to me.

The film centers on a “samurai pimp,” Ouyang Fang (Leslie Cheung) that is someone who connects swordsmen with those looking for someone they want killed. The film is organized by three different characters that visit Fang, creating three different vignettes. The first visitor is a long time friend, Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung Ka Fai)–whose is somewhat of a womanizer and possibly a swordsman. Next is a blind swordsman (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) that Fang hires to protect a village. Finally, Hong Qi (Jacky Cheung), is the last swordsman to see Fang. While the film has sword fights in a kung-fu style, the film is only a kung-fu movie in a superficial sense. The fight scenes are not only few and far between, but they are edited so that making sense of the action is difficult. The sequences are in semi-slow motion, too, which may appeal to arthouse fans. Kung-fu fans will find this film way too slow and the focus on more dramatic storylines disappointing. Those dramatic storylines deal with the woman in each of these characters’ lives and the frustration and melancholy from the things that separate these characters. If that appeals to you, just be warned that the story can be hard to follow. In my experience, Wong is more interested in images, moods and situations, rather than conventional narratives, although in this film the narratives do intertwine in interesting and coherent ways (once you figure them out). If that sounds interesting, then you might like this film.

***
Wong’s focus is the things that separate lovers and the resulting tragic consequences. All of the characters are to some extent frustrated lovers. The one character, Hong Qi, who has a happy ending with his beloved serves as a contrast, heightening the sadness of the other characters.

One of the things that stands out to me in Wong’s films is his quirky cinematic style. The way he uses his camera doesn’t always make sense to me. I’m often saying to myself, “That’s an odd shot,” or “Why’d he choose to shoot that way?” Yet, I find his style compelling, and something I connect to, even they are made up of odd decisions. In this film, Wong uses a lot of close-ups that I found strange. They shots are necessarily aesthetically pleasing either; I don’t know if they would work as stills. But I should go back and check. Like other films of his, repeat viewing will reward viewers.

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