ASHES OF TIME Redux | Dir. Wong Kar-Wai | 2004 | 100 min
Presented in Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles.
Mythic, melancholy and mysterious, ASHES OF TIME is a philosopher's movie.
Set mainly in vast deserts or rolling landscapes all but barren of people, this rambling meditation on love and loss, on conflict between chivalric calling and domestic life, lays out its lessons of costs and consequences against the traditions of the Chinese martial-arts novel.
ASHES OF TIME, written and directed in a surreal style by Wong Kar Wai, came out of the Beijing Film Studio to compete at the Venice Film Festival in 1994. The film, its distributor says, amounts to a prequel to THE EAGLE-SHOOTING HERO, one of the popular martial-arts novels of Jin Yong, in which all three of the film's principal characters appear in subordinate roles and in their old age.
Foremost among these younger selves in ASHES OF TIME is Ouyang Feng (played by Leslie Cheung), the film's central figure, who, like a samurai, is an itinerant sword for hire. Now, in early middle age, hardened, solitary, beset by memories of the love he abandoned for his vocation, he is mainly an agent, seeking work — murder — for other swordsmen.
There is his old friend, Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung Kar-fai, the star of The Lover), who visits once a year. He has his own sad love story, and he stays in touch with Ouyang's lost love. One year he arrives with a bottle of wine said to possess the magical power to make one forget. Huang drinks; Ouyang declines.
The third of the principals, the swordsman Hong Qi (Jacky Cheung), appears well into the film, after Ouyang has sternly refused a poor young woman's offer of some eggs and a mule to avenge a brother murdered by horse thieves. Hong Qi, who has left behind his own wife, finds the impetus for redemption in his encounter with Ouyang and the poor girl.
For those who seek metaphors, ASHES OF TIME, which opens today at Cinema Village, presents the eye as well as the illusions of vision. One character is nearly blind. Another, a swordsman, goes blind in the middle of a horrendous battle. Two characters, Yin and Yang — one presented as a man, the other as his sister — are identical. And there is a brief appearance by a legendary sword fighter who hones his skills against his own reflection.
For those who seek battle, ASHES OF TIME offers intermittent blurs of action, streaks of flying figures, flashing steel, and rare spatters and gouts of moist crimson, all washing across the screen like hurried brush paintings.
Like the attainment of wisdom, ASHES OF TIME requires a long journey through testing terrain. — New York Times
*Originally published: May 17, 1996
1997 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL — 3rd place (Best Asian Film | Kar-Wai Wong)
1994 GOLDEN HORSE FILM FESTIVAL — Won (Golden Horse Award, Best Cinematography | Christopher Doyle, Best Film Editing | Kit-Wai Kai, Patrick Tam), Nominated (Golden Horse Award, Best Adapted Screenplay | Kar-Wai Wong, Best Art Direction | William Chang, Best Makeup & Costume Design | William Chang)
1995 HONG KONG FILM AWARDS — Won (Hong Kong Film Award, Best Cinematography | Christopher Doyle, Best Art Direction | William Chang, Best Costume & Make Up Design | William Chang), Nominated (Hong Kong Film Award | Best Picture, Best Director | Kar-Wai Wong, Best Screenplay | Kar-Wai Wong, Best Action Choreography | Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, Best Film Editing | Patrick Tam, Kit-Wai Kai, Best Original Film Score | Frankie Chan)
1995 HONG KONG FILM CRITICS SOCIETY AWARDS — Won (HKFCS Award | Best Film, Best Director | Kar-Wai Wong, Best Screenplay | Kar-Wai Wong)
2010 IRON ELEPHANT FILM AWARDS — Nominated (Iron Elephant Award, Best Supporting Actress | Brigitte Lin)
1996 NANTES THREE CONTINENTS FESTIVAL — Nominated (Golden Montgolfiere | Kar-Wai Wong)
1994 VENICE FILM FESTIVAL — Won (Golden Osella, Best Cinematography | Christopher Doyle)
ASHES OF TIME Redux is the third title in our MASTERS: WONG KAR-WAI series.
— The Calgary Cinematheque is proud to showcase the films of Wong Kar-Wai as part of the Masters series. Wong Kar-Wai is a genuine auteur whose signature style is instantly recognizable in his films due to the presence of eye-popping visuals, memorable music and characters that linger long in the memory. He has redefined cinema by freeing it from the shackles of traditional scripts and instead turned cinema into a stylish art form where each frame exudes colour and rich emotions.
Wong Kar-Wai is interested in exploring spaces where humans interact, where they make connections or where they narrowly miss each other. He undertakes this exploration by portraying moments which involve glances, an encounter, an affair, heartbreak and agony. These scenes are not presented in silence but are instead stitched together with breathtaking music resulting in seductive, immersive and emotional experiences. This depiction of moments with memorable music gives his film a universal feel and that is a big reason why his films have gotten recognition around the world. His films could be set in Hong Kong or Buenos Aires yet the mood and feelings his characters evoke could take place in any country in the world.
The four films selected by the Calgary Cinematheque highlight the core style of Wong Kar-Wai but also illustrate the range of his filmmaking and the diverse topics he covered.