Ashes of Time Redux (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

film_ashes_sm.jpgThe upside is that I do like films that have a strong visual aspect to fall back on.

 

 

 

 

 

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Although it is widely considered one of his best films, most American Wong Kar-wai fans know Ashes of Time as the film that he took a break from working on to make Chungking Express, but have not actually seen it. Ashes of Time‘s distribution has always been pretty spotty; there are a number of presumably legal DVD releases of it in existence, but all of them are of a very low quality, which does not suit what a brooding, beautiful film Ashes of Time is. And forget about finding a film print of it; even when the British Film Institute-funded National Film Theatre in London ran a Wong Kar-wai retrospective in 2004 they were unable to secure a film print, and those guys can get pretty much anything. So it is quite a treat to be able to see Ashes of Time Redux—a reimagined, recut version of Ashes of Time—in a nice, pristine film print in a proper movie theater, and not on some sketchy DVD with subtitles of a suspicious quality.

And man, does it look pretty. Ashes of Time is all desert landscapes, and everything, from the actors to the settings to the costumes, are shades of gold, brown and yellow. Of course, WKW gets my vote for the filmmaker who is most talented visually, and the film was shot by Christopher Doyle, my pick for the greatest living cinematographer (Doyle shot Zhang Yimou’s Hero as well, and despite how great Hero looks, Ashes of Time Redux makes it look like shit). That all said, I have a weird relationship with Ashes of Time: It pairs my favorite type of Asian films (brooding romantic things, another specialty of Wong’s) with one of my least favorite types of Asian films (martial arts epics). That is to say that, when not speaking on the formal level, I don’t really like Ashes of Time.

Ashes of Time Redux is no exception. I don’t care for and generally find myself tuning out these stories of swordmasters and trials in the desert and stuff like that. The upside is that I do like films that have a strong visual aspect to fall back on—no matter how much I’m not enjoying the story, I will likely still enjoy the film just because it gives me the opportunity to sit back and look at pretty pictures while thinking about something else. | Pete Timmermann

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