Ashes of Time Redux is a special film for Wong Kar Wai fans.
This is a revisiting of his rarely-seen 1994 movie Ashes of Time, which was known as the director's only martial-arts movie; Ashes of Time Redux was introduced here in September at the Toronto film festival.
The 'martial arts' tag confused viewers the first time around and will again, for while the film does indeed involve skilled swordsmen carving each other up in the desert, Ashes of Time Redux is a dream-like meditation about love, loss, memory and yearning. The cinematography is gobsmacking.
The story is based on Louis Cha's martial arts novel, The Eagle-Shooting Heroes and the storyteller is Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung), a loner who lives in the desert nursing his broken heart. Seems the woman he loved (Maggie Cheung) married his brother, because Ouyang left her alone too long.
Every year, Ouyang is visited by Huang (Tony Leung Ka Fai), another swordsman and adventurer. Huang appears to be quite a ladies' man, but his annual visit proves to be in the name of true love.
The stories Ouyang tells involve a swordsman who is going blind (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), a barefooted swordsman (Jacky Cheung) and his dedicated wife (Bai Li), a girl who can't afford vengeance (Charlie Young) and a murderous brother and sister team (Brigitte Lin in both roles) who seem to be two sides of the same form of suffering -- unrequited love.
"The root of man's problems is memory," says Ouyang at the beginning of the film, and when Huang visits, he brings a gift of magic wine that eradicates memory.
Regret over lost love seems to be the memory most worth losing.
Huang wanders off and encounters the blind swordsman; there are arresting flashbacks to the blind swordsman's wife, Peach Blossom (Carina Lau).
That skirt-chasing Huang later gets into trouble for jilting another woman, but as everything unfolds in an imaginary world with its own mysterious rules, it's almost impossible to keep track of the characters.
Wong Kar Wai has said that he wanted to show these martial-arts heroes at a time when they were still ordinary people and before their ascent to legendary status.
The cinematography says otherwise, with almost everyone bathed in an otherwordly golden light.
The light and colour throughout the film are often extraordinary, and a new soundtrack featuring Yo Yo Ma is generally mesmerizing.
And battle scenes are more like ballet, only with blood -- beautifully choreographed and somewhat dream-like in the way they unfold. There's a fair amount of dying in slo-mo. It's all lovely but confusing, not unlike love itself.
The passage of time is rarely pretty, however, and Ashes Of Time Redux is all about that.
This is a film for followers of Wong Kar Wai and for fans of nostalgia.
You know who you are.
(This film is rated 14-A)
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