'Ashes of Time Redux'


This full-scale restoration will be a grand treat to the many fans of Wong Kar Wai who have never been able to see the 1994 original except on badly duped DVDs. One of the director's rare forays into genre territory, "Ashes of Time Redux" depicts the timeless and placeless world of wuxia (chivalric warriors practicing martial arts).

Predictably, though, the rambunctious Wong was not content to merely repeat or reinvigorate the genre when he began shooting "Ashes" more than 15 years ago but decided to reinvent it completely. Commercial prospects for this new version are dicey because martial arts lovers might find it too arty, and art film lovers, Wong's international fan base, might find it too generic and violent. DVD sales, however, should be robust and festival screenings plentiful.

In any case, one wonders what fecundity of imagination — or perversity of artistic willfulness — it took to shoot a costume epic made up almost entirely of dark rooms, closeups and tightly constricted long shots. Or what about the fact that the film contains only a handful of repeating, doubled, easily confused characters rather than the proverbial cast of thousands?

Wong's obsessive themes of memory, the irretrievability of the past and the impossibility of love trump those of traditional wuxia films, which tend to deal more with honor and the indomitability of the spirit. Furthermore, where is all the sword fighting that audiences might reasonably have expected to see? While it's true that some stirring action scenes are sprinkled throughout the film, for the most part it's all interiority, unrequited longing and emotional frustration.

The film still is a formal wonder, as it was 15 years ago, full of Wong's signature step-printing technique, his off-kilter shooting angles and a flamboyant visual style. But while it's hard to be definitive about what's different in the new version without comparing it shot by shot with the old, the music seems much more powerful and more fully keyed-in to the action, and the color is saturated and intensified to make the film even more stylized than it already was.