A broken-hearted hit man moves to the desert where he finds skilled swordsmen to carry out his contract killings.
Ou-yang Feng lives in the middle of a desert, where he acts as a middle man to various swordsmen in ancient China. One of those swordsmen is Huang Yao-shi, who has found some magic wine that causes one to forget the past. At another time, Huang met Mu-rong Yin and under the influence of drink, promised to marry Mu-rong's sister Mu-rong Yang. Huang jilts her, and Mu-rong Yin hires Ou-yang to kill Huang. But then Mu-rong Yang hires Ou-yang to protect Huang. This is awkward, because Mu-rong Yang and Mu-rong Yin are in reality the same person. Other unrelated plot lines careen about. Among them is Ou-yang's continuing efforts to destroy a band of horse thieves. Oy-yang recruits another swordsman, a man who is going blind and wants to get home to see his wife before his sight goes completely. The swordsman is killed. Ou-yang then meets another swordsman who doesn't like wearing shoes. Oy-yang sends this man after the horse thieves, with better results. We then find out what a man must give up to follow the martial path.
Recap: A lone swordsman, living in the desert and acting as an agent to other swordsmen, recollects how his life turned out to be as it is. It started with that the woman he loved chose to marry his brother instead, causing him to leave his home town. One of the swordsmen is Huang who is himself in the middle of a complicated love story, where a woman wants to have him killed for having ran away from a promise to marry her younger sister. But the sister wants to hire a swordsman to have Huang protected, and everything is put to an edge when the woman and her sister is really the same person.
Comments: I've seen the Redux version released in 2008 of the original that was released in 1994. How the two versions differ I can't say, but the Redux is very heavily stylized in the way of Chinese Wuxia action. That is unfortunate as that style to me seems to have forgotten one of the most important elements of a successful and entertaining movie. A comprehensible story. But true to its style scenery and visual elements seem much more important and much more in focus of writer and director Kar Wai Wong. Therefore there are lots of colorful, very beautiful scenes, that are completely unrelated to the story.
The editing and timeline of the story is also mishandled. Much is left out in the scenes, the time line is broken and rearranged in a confusing way. Very slow and calm scenes are suddenly relieved by surprisingly brutal and seemingly unmotivated fights, only to themselves being relieved by something else and unrelated. The result is a confusing and very uninteresting movie.
Thanks to these brutal but very few fights, the movie is put into the action genre. The poster and photographs also imply this but could almost be regarded as false marketing. Only a few minutes out of the 90 could be considered as anything like action, the other couldn't be farther away from it. The movie in its entirety is very slow, dull and hence very boring. Not even the rare action filled scenes help since they are so disconnected from the rest of the movie.
I might say that I'm not a fan of this Chinese style, since they often seem to be afflicted of these same problems, most importantly that the visual is more important than the story, but Ashes of Time Redux is perhaps the worst example I've seen.
The cinematography and art direction like all Wong Kar Wai films is simply magnificent. The desolate landscape reflects the loneliness and isolation that permeates through the entire movie; a sense of lost and despair, a basic mood of pessimism that lasts till the very near end of movie where we got a glimpse of a future that holds promise through the actions and thoughts of Ouyang and of course a flash foreword, that shows the future of the characters.
The action scenes are in a word, "WOW". Wow in the sense that I have never seen it done like that before. All the actions scenes I have seen all involves the action being seen properly. Every punch, kick, slashes and chop are seen and most of the time emphasised through slow motion. However, in Ashes of Time except for one scene all the fight scenes are shot in trademark Wong Kar Wai style strobing effect where everything is just a blur. That really blew me away as I felt like I was actually in the fight with everything going at breakneck speed with hardly anytime to react.
The story or rather what the film conveys is very thought invoking, like a typical Wong Kar Wai film every time you see the film you discover something new. You would discover another piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is a Wong Kar Wai movie and only through multiple viewings would you be able to piece together the whole story. Like all his films the movie is more about the form, the film itself rather then the story, the story at times seems to be an afterthought a side dish to the main course of the visual feast of cinematography, art direction and sound to provide the audience with a lingering sense of mood, of feeling. It makes you reflect on your own views on life and love and for me the similar sense of disenchantment that I share with the characters. Things like the best way to avoid rejection is to reject others first, or if you have to lose something, the best way is to keep it in your memories. It also makes you realise and reflect upon the fact that the consequences of any action you take do not affect only yourself but the people around you as well.
The part on Hong Qi and his actions strikes me a lot and that happened only at the last of my numerous viewings and that is his courage. Would you have the courage to be yourself, to go after your own dreams even if the cost is great?
It is this ability to involve the audience to make them think way after they have seen the film and to make go see the film again and again which makes this film great. The sense of familiarity, that makes people go I feel the same way or I know someone who is like that. it just sorts of brings the movie closer to you to make you feel involved like the characters are acting out your life in a weird way. It is the entire package, cinematography, art direction, sound and a philosophical story close to my heart that make me love this film so much. To date it is still my all time favourite non-American film.
Yet for all Ashes' frustrations, it's still a gorgeous piece of filmmaking.
The season's fade-ins introducing each chapter are new. Originally, Wong Kar-Wai assumed that the hints in the movie were enough for understanding.
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