Ashes of Time Redux Reviews
Before discussing the film, I just want to state to whoever is reading this that my opinion here is purely based on what I have just seen, I have no previous experience of the Wong Kar Wai's filmography and the 1994 original release of the film.
Ashes of Time follows a number of random stories that revolve around a contract hit-man who lives in the desert in isolation. The film started off weak, following a character that lacked any explanation or exploration on why I should care, but as the film progressed, details emerged and eventually I found myself engaged with what was happening on screen. I cannot say, even with its revealing conclusion, that I comprehensively understood what was happening on screen as the director narrates and connects the film's stories in a slightly disjointed and jarring way. Though disorientated, I was still able to appreciate the superficial narrative and the exchanges in dialogue between the characters on screen. By the time the film reaches the second chapter, the stories being told started to become more fascinating and since the fundamentals of the protagonist has already been established during the first chapter, I didn't need to try so hard in understanding his purpose or find something to empathise with. The arrival of the blind-swordsman and the helpless woman certainly gave the film the entertainment value that was lacking in the preceding story, and at the same time provided the audience further shades of the protagonist, even if the story barely concerns him. It is during the final chapter of the film where I started to realise the value of the film's first act. The film started to make more sense and has intrigued me in wanted to come back in order to further understand the character and the director's thematic intentions. One thing I want to mention before concluding is the film's photography. I have read that this version of the film features a different colour palette from the original. Since I have yet to see the initial release, I cannot contrast the two styles, but what I can say is that I was satisfied with the film's imagery. Though there were a couple moments where it pushed the saturation to a point of feeling like pure fantasy, it did provide the film with an original flavour that prevented it from feeling dull and lifeless.
Starting with the redux release may not be the optimal decision but it was either this or not watch a Wong Kar Wai film at all, as this was the only film available from him in my local library. The film features a complex story that proves to be rewarding if one is patient and willing to see it again.
Beautifully shot by Chris Doyle, the great cast doesn't have a lot to do - everyone's the same (brooding on their complicated past). There's so little in the way of plot that there's no movie if it wasn't for keeping your brain searching for what the characters' relationships are (which either is fun to you or it sucks) and of course the jaw-dropping visuals and haunting mood.
That's why its great strength is also its weakness. This is a poem accompanied by pictures, not a movie! That's why it's so beautiful yet not very good.
It's like Chen Kaige's "Emperor and the Assassin" without the epicness - in fact the landscape is the star of this movie - there's only a few actors with a few lines each with the exception of the narrator. Or it's like Zhang Yimou's Hero with the fight scenes deleted. Make of that what you will. It's beautiful to me regardless. It's kind of pretentious to blur out the one action scene (by Sammo Hung) just to not have this movie be about action in any way, but that's also a gutsy statement. This is a poem, not yet another cheezy kung fu dramedy.
So in the end it's a slow, meditative, forlorn but at times intoxicating film in a desert atmosphere which is the right setting for these dried up characters. On your second viewing, especially if you get a little high, anyone will fall deep inside it, particularly if you've ghosts in your love life past.
If they cut this down to an hour and 13 minutes it would be the best 73 minute movie ever, but this version is 93... Still, I hated the original cut and this one kept me pretty mesmerized.
It's a controversial, memorable film that is more note-worthy in 90s film history than a lot of other more traditional and enjoyable flicks. That's interesting in and of itself.
The story telling is extrodinary. The cinematography by Christopher Doyle, exquisite!
Finally, the complex relationships among the characters is the real romance, happy-ever-after isn't.
Though Ashes of Time is a movie abt swordsmen, it hardly has any characteristic flavors. Even the few action scenes here & there are shot in a way that gives you a blurred vision metaphorically representing vague, muddled thought process of characters themselves. Wai provides more attention to the frame he creates rather than action it encapsulates and when it comes to frames almost every frame is like a painting here. Vivid colors blends beautifully with desolation of deserts and even characters seems to be inebriated by the atmosphere he creates. In fact characters thrown in the set up carry same recurring notion of alienation & unrequited love that dominated his "loose trilogy". The same conflict with memory & longings within.
"People say, when you can't have what you want, the best you can do is not to forget."......Ashes of Time might be difficult to describe but it lingers,it haunts & it is impossible to forget!!....