Ashes of Time Redux

Ashes of Time (1994) movie poster

(1994) dir. Wong Kar-Wai
viewed: 08/20/09

There was a time, not too long ago, that Wong Kar-Wai was one of my favorite living directors.  From Days of Being Wild (1990), Chungking Express (1994), Ashes of Time (pre-Redux) (1994), and Fallen Angels (1995), he managed, with some aesthetic direction from frequent collaborator, cinematographer Christopher Doyle, to create a strange mixture of urban loneliness and longing, amidst the glowing neon of nighttime, and a somewhat French New Wave influenced sense of abstraction while adhering to his stories.

And honestly, Ashes of Time was perhaps my personal favorite, though perhaps Days of Being Wild is now.  I liked the transposition of his characters and tonality into a period film, a sword-fighting film, which was something that I was also enjoying.  In many ways, it was quite anomalous in his films, as he is so urban.  But in other ways, it tied back, with assassins, lost loves, long stretches of yearning, and even centered around a restaurant of sorts.

The story with the “Redux” was that the original negative had been damaged or lost or something, and Wong Kaw-Wai had long wished to have either re-edited or represented his film.  So, this version, I think, is more than a tad modified, but is essentially the same film.  It had been so long, I couldn’t really say.

I had been drawn to the film with its themes of memory and forgetting and its stellar cast featuring both Tony Leungs, Jacky Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, and the late Leslie Cheung.  And the film is still a visual pleasure, mixing strange color tintings and interesting juxtapositions of close-ups and items like birdcages.  And the film does still evoke its mood, of people lost and mixed-up from their obligations and loves, strewn out across the world in a somewhat existential nowhere.

But it didn’t speak to me as strongly as it had in the past, and I don’t know if that is due to the new edit, or more likely just to my changing person.  It’s still an interesting film, still probably one of his most interesting.  Yet Wong Kar-Wai, perhaps, by not having really evolved deeply in the meantime, even his older, more thought-provoking work, seems a retread of itself.  A redux, if you will.

One Reply to “Ashes of Time Redux”

  1. “The story with the “Redux” was that the original negative had been damaged or lost or something, and Wong Kaw-Wai had long wished to have either re-edited or represented his film”

    In an interview with WKW and Doyle, they offered basically this story:

    The studio that financed Ashes went under, and the only complete archival 35mm print was lost forever. The recut was intended to be restorative, and not a major change. But when they wound up unable to find a full print, they had to reassemble the film from prints they found at theaters, many of which were radically different from one another, which posed limitations that inspired them to re-think the film.

    Besides that, I relate to your mixed feelings about WKW. He seems to have stagnated a bit since ITMFL.

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