Wong Kar Wai’s only martial arts film was recently given a face lift and a re-release with hopes of finding this visual and creative assault on the mind that will keep you engaged and intrigued by the complex characters thrown on the screen.
Now first things first, this isn’t really a great martial arts film, as the action is quick and few and far between in the picture, and to add to the pending disappointment of an action junky, it is shot in a way that it is hard to tell what is going on exactly. But that is okay for everyone else, as the action is a nice mix into the great character study of the film, and it even adds more to the characters as it shows us who they are at their core. Broken up into 4 parts, the film is mainly narrated by Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung) is a hired killer living in the desert and we follow him through the four seasons each with a different person entering his life at this time and he tells us their story. Coming across his path are a delusional woman with split personalities, a “blind” swordsman who has come out to fight before he will no longer be able too, a young/reckless hired hand with a lot of skill but a need to harness it, and his good friend who visits at the same time every year.
Wong Kar Wai intercuts and blends these character and stories together so that they all are loosely connected and while things don’t make a lot of sense in the get go, you slowly begin to piece things together as you continue to learn more and more about Ouyang Feng through those around him. Throw this twisting plot in with the beautiful images Kar Wai puts on screen, and the viewer is left with a wonderful and engaging tale that demands a repeat viewing.
Wong Kar Wai’s films focus on the people in them as much as they do a plot, and he is at no loss of great characters here. Ouyang Feng is played with the perfect balance of coldness and longing by Leslie Cheung who paints a wonderfully conflicted character that has exiled himself in this desert. Tony Leung (Chiu Wai), who has become a sort of staple for Wong Kar Wai since, is fantastic as the blind swordsman while the other Tony Leung (Ka Fai) is also great as Feng’s annual friend Yaoshi who is the kind of the glue to the varying story threads and connects them all together. Jacky Cheung also brings a lot of life to the screen as the fresh face for hire that has incredible skill but is a bit reckless in his habits. Jacky works great with Leslie as they have the most humorous and fun banter among all of the characters. The women in this film also really stand out as Maggie Cheung is great as Feng’s brother’s wife, and she plays sad to a T. Brigitte Lin is also intriguingly odd as the split personality Murong siblings, and successfully creates dual personalities.
In then end, Ashes of Time Redux is a hard film to explain, and is much better to just experience. If you are a fan of Wong Kar Wai’s films, I highly recommend you take in this picture either in a theater if you can or on the DVD release down the line. It is engaging and thought proving character study that feels surreal yet grounded at the same time and is a rewarding film that will keep you thinking. Check it out.