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Review: Ashes of Time Redux Challenges The Psyche

Review: Ashes of Time Redux Challenges One's Psyche

Scoop Review: Auckland International Film Festival

By Meghan Paggabao

Like the treacherous but sublime desert in which it is set, Ashes of Time Redux is a difficult, epic journey for one's psyche.

Once an elusive mirage of the film world, the legendary Wong Kar Wai was compelled to release his digitally-mastered version of this 1994 movie this year, to finally quell poor versions sprouting on the back alleys of both Hong Kong and the Internet.

Wong Kar Wai fans would have jumped a few millimetres off their seats when they saw the film in the festival programme, but be forewarned: this might just be Wong Kar Wai's most difficult film to appreciate yet, and I suspect, a few repeated viewings are required for this film to sink in.

The plot is fragmented, and relies on themes of memory and rejection to tie itself together.

The story involves Ou-yang Feng (the late Leslie Cheung), portrayed as a cold, selfish, fallen swordsman who spends his days living in the desert working as a middleman for various assassins in ancient China. Acting as the main narrator of the movie, he encounters various characters as they pass him on their journey, including The Blind Swordsman (Tony Leung Chiu Wai, In the Mood for Love, Hero) and an old friend Huang Yao-Shi (Tony Leung Ka Fai), who drinks a special wine that makes him forget his past at one point in the movie.

He also meets a schizophrenic woman with male and female alter egos called Mu-rong Yin and Mu-rong Yang (Brigitte Lin), and a young swordsman named Hung Qi (Jacky Cheung).

Despite the lessons The Blind Swordsman and Hung Qi learns and brings to Ou-yang Feng, he still remains spiteful of love. It eventually becomes apparent why, when audiences are introduced to the woman who left him for his brother (Maggie Cheung, In the Mood for Love, Hero).

As the end of the movie approaches, you get a sense that Ou-yang Feng's belief of "reject first, before you get rejected" is the coherent link to all the fragments, and these different characters' stories are nothing more than metaphors of this theme.

Conventional Wu Xia fans would find Ashes too incongruent, with the usual coherent narrative and the sense of redemption of usual Wu Xia films absent.

Nevertheless, it cannot be contested that Ashes has memorable and mesmerizing imagery, from burnt-yolk yellow sand juxtaposed with a cerulean sky, to the mixture of faint lilac and green algae over puddles of water, to crimson and mud-brown as the backdrop for some of the movies' sword clashes.

There are plenty of beautiful fight scenes, albeit more sombre than entertaining.

The lines range from profound to overtly sentimental, although perhaps something was lost in the subtitles' translation. Nevertheless, Ashes brings to the fore the darkness of losing one's soul to the pains of the past, and the shell of a person one becomes while living with the poisonous thoughts of regret.

Being Wong Kar Wai's most difficult film yet, it's not for everybody, and might require a second or third viewing before one starts to love it just as much as In the Mood for Love and 2046.

That being said, Ashes is not for a weekend viewing at the cinema, but it is an important addition to the collection of any Wong Kar Wai fan, or anyone who enjoys the psychological challenge of a melancholic art film.

Hong Kong 1994/2008
Ashes of Time Redux (Dung che sai duk)
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Screenplay: Wong Kar-wai. Based on the story by Louis Cha
Photography: Christopher Doyle
Editors: Patrick Tam, William Chang Suk-ping
Music: Frankie Chan, Roel A. Garcia, Wu Tong
With: Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Kar-fai, Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Maggie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Carina Lau, Charlie Yeung
Festivals: Cannes (Out of Competition) 2008
In Cantonese and Mandarin, with English Subtitles.
93 minutes


Meghan Paggabao is a graphic artist and writer based in Auckland, And is a member of This is her first piece for Scoop.


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