Ashes of Time Redux the Sony Pictures Classic by director is Wong Kar-Wai is a confusing film. That one sentence can pretty much sum up the entire review. Obviously it won’t, but you get my point.
This Wuxia (arguably) film stars Leslie Cheung, as Ouyang Feng, a sort of agent who finds work for swordsmen in need of money. Ouyang Feng himself is quite a good swordsman who became bitter and heartless after losing the love of his life. He lives in the middle of nowhere in or next to the desert, though apparently not too far from civilization, as he does find work for wandering swordsmen in nearby towns. We watch Ouyang Feng through the seasons as famous swordsmen come looking for work from him. Inevitably we learn their stories as well, and how they connect with his. Through it all Ouyang Feng ruminates on love, the pain of memory, and destiny.
-The movie is absolutely gorgeous. Its cinematography is top notch, and it’s simply a beautiful world. Never has a desert looked so good. The outlaws and legendary swordsmen running around draw hints of Sergio Leone’s classic Westerns. It has a sense of a self contained world where all the major players are gathered in one sandy place. The colors, set pieces, and backgrounds all draw the eye. Visually the film is so stunning and crisp that is feels like a magical world without even trying to. It's a vibrant land of beauty and mystery.
-The film is literally a who’s who of Hong Kong cinema. Leslie Chueng as Ouynang Feng, Tony Leung Kar Fai as Huang Yoashi, Brigitte Lin as both Murong Yin and Murong Yang, Tony Leung Chiu –Wai as the Blind Swordsman (yes there are two Tony Leung’s), Maggie Cheung as Brother’s Wife, Jacky Cheung as Hong Qi, Charlie Yeung as the girl, and Bai Li as Hong Qi’s wife. This film is not lacking at all in the talent department and all bring their A game to the film.
-As I said before the best summary of this movie is that it’s confusing. It’s supposed to be a Wuxia (martial arts epic) film, but it’s not. Before anyone thinks I’m jumping the gun, on the assumption that it’s supposed to be a Wuxia film, let me state that this film is “supposedly” based on the Wuxia novel Eagle-Shooting Hero. Though there is little to no relation to that book other than the names of the characters. So it’s not really a Wuxia film given the themes and plot and lack of focus on the martial arts fights (more on this in my next point). However here’s the thing, those same fights, and the characters themselves make it hard to swallow as a drama or artsy film. Actions and decisions the characters made make it hard for you to sympathize with them. The main character’s story is disjointed, and how the other character’s story interacts with his story makes the whole thing hard to follow. This is especially true if you’re not fully invested in the movie from the beginning. You might have to go back and watch it again to fully understand what was going on.
-The fight scenes switched between traditional fight scenes, shaky cam, close up shots, and dream like sequences. When the action was long shots and steady it was great, and you felt like you were finally watching a Wuxia movie. Then midway through each fight the style seemed to change, as if they couldn’t decide what looked best. You kind of get amped watching the awesome action, then the style changed and you no longer know what’s going on.
-I only have one thing to really harp on here. I’m a big fan of the Wuxia genre. And this movie kind of isn’t. I feel like if you’re going to make a film about a Wuxia novel, then you’re film should be a Wuxia film. This isn’t or if it is only marginally. On top of that when they recut the film for the Redux version they cut out even more fight scenes, furthering the disparity between a Wuxia film and well whatever this is.
Reading this it may seem as the various faults of the film left an unagreeable taste in my mouth. However honestly for all this films faults, I still enjoyed it. It’s rare to see such a beautiful and well acted film. Though confusing the movie keeps you engaged the entire time. I was very interested in each character, and what happened to each character. After it was done I honestly felt that I enjoyed the film, and felt like making the movie shorter did it a disservice, as I was still intrigued by what happened to each character. I give this movie a 3 of 5. I recommend watching this movie if for nothing else the beauty of the film.