Sunday, March 08, 2009


Written and directed by Wong Kar-wai

Ou-yang Feng: Though I’d lived here a long time, I’d never really looked at the desert.

Not all that stems from economic crisis is bad. When one such crisis struck Hong Kong in 1999, a warehouse went bankrupt and all who had items stored there needed to collect their belongings before morning. This is where the original footage of Wong Kar-wai’s ASHES OF TIME was kept. When the footage was picked up, it was found in pieces and needed to be put back together again. From this process, ASHES OF TIME REDUX was born. Over the course of a few years, the original footage had been restored so that China’s most prolific contemporary director could recut the film and present it officially for the first time to international markets. Fourteen years after its initial release, it is most certainly a welcome return.

ASHES OF TIME REDUX is a lonely film set against a backdrop so colorful and so lush that it feels as though it is both surrealistically unreal and painfully serious all at once. The experience is entirely engrossing and delightfully stimulating, forcing the viewer to face a loneliness that it would ordinarily turn away from. Ou-yang Feng (Leslie Cheung) kills for money. He gives you the chance to erase elements from your life that you don’t have the courage to take care of yourself. He lives a modest existence alone in the desert and waits for the world to come to him. And while he aids others to forget their pasts, he holds on tightly to his painful past with faithful fervor. The characters that come into his life are all kept at a reasonable distance and all leave him practically crushed by the walls that surround him. His tiny shack is certainly the coldest spot in this vast desert. It all comes together like a dream or a fable where no one perspective is right except the one from behind the camera.

The redux edition features a new score recording by Yo-Yo Ma, new act breaks added in by Kar-wai himself and a breathtaking restoration of Christopher Doyle’s extravagantly coloured cinematography. Now available to won, it has been packaged with a scant number of special features but while it may not offer much, what it does is plenty satisfying. A fifteen-minute “making of” features interviews with Kar-wai, Doyle and key members of the cast, like Kar-wai regular, Tony Leung. The interviews are drawn from the redux edition’s press tour at the Cannes film festival, where it played outside competition upon its completion. There is also a moderated Q&A with Kar-wai in New York. While Kar-wai may come off as pretentious to start, as he sits indoors with his sunglasses covering his eyes, all apprehension is dispelled when he speaks. This is an intelligent man with a deep appreciation for film and for the craft that went into this particular work. Furthermore, he appreciates his admirers and shares in their love for this film.

Watching ASHES OF TIME REDUX is like watching a modern and twisted interpretation of Shakespeare. The subversion of the characters and their larger meanings is playful but always mindful of the depth needed to bring the magnificent imagery to life. Kar-wai has said how difficult it was to make this epic, from its complex story to its elaborate wuxia fight sequences. It haunted him so much during the initial production that he broke from it during post-production to work on other projects. After so many years, I’m very pleased that this past did not go forgotten.


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