Ashes of Time Redux **
Directed by Wong Kar Wai
Written by Wong Kar Wai, based on the book by Louis Cha
Jacky Cheung as Hong Qi
Leslie Cheung as Ouyang Feng
Carina Lau as Peach Blossom
Tony Leung Ka Fai as Huang Yaoshi
Brigitte Lin as Murong Yin/Murong Yang
Rated R for some violence
When one is a film fan, there is a list of directors that seem to be on a mandatory list of people to watch. Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese, Bergman, etc. And on many of those lists, people will include the films of Wong Kar Wai, a Hong Kong film maker who, and this may surprise many people, never quite did it for me. I have only seen three of his movies, and none of them are either of his two so called "masterworks"-those are "In the Mood for Love" and "Chungking Express." So I will reserve judgement on his talents as a film maker until I see those. But so far, with "2046," "My Blueberry Nights," and now this version of "Ashes of Time," I find that his visuals and strong effort in cinematography overshadows any kind of empathy or emotions for characters, making it hard to actually get into his films. I have left his films saying how pretty they looked, but I never had anything nice to say about Kar-War's ability as a storyteller.
"Ashes of Time Redux" is a re-edit of Wong Kar Wai's 1994 film "Ashes of Time." I have never seen the previous film, and it was released when Wong Kar Wai wasn't that strong of a box offie draw. So, I cannot say what was changed, but based on the running times and some odd gaps in the storyline (which are explained by some on-screen texts), this version is about seven or eight minutes shorter than the other. Taking place in ancient Chinese times, we open with narration by Ouyang Feng, a fallen swordsman who was driven by greed to become a loner. He makes his stance against love very well known, which is explained by his own past love story where he was rejected. Taking place over the course of the four seasons, we have all these threads of storyline which encompass the themes of lost love and memory, and some magic wine that will make one forget the past.
"Ashes of Time Redux" has two very positive things going for it-the cinematography and the editing. I have noticed that Wong Kar-Wai is a visual poet in nearly all of his films, always giving me something very nice to look at. The color scheme here is very rich and vibrant, and the editing has a flow that leaves the viewer in a kind of trance as the film moves along. But I had the problem that I have with all of his films-at times I could not figure out what the story was about, and at times I didn't care. During scenes of great and powerful emotion, I was left quite dry. My director did not give me enough reason to want to follow these characters, and in the end its a case of strong style and not enough backstory or substance. If I cannot be drawn into the story and characters, than there is really no reason for me to watch the film.
So once again, I am left cold from a Wong Kar Wai film. Once again I cannot find the genius that many people find whenever they watch one of his films. And once again, I was struck by his way with visuals, and was able to look past that and see that beyond pretty images and colors, and to find the empty shells that are his stories. Perhaps I will have a different feeling if I watch one of his two so called "masterworks," but for now with these three he always misses the mark.