Ashes of Time Redux: Time after time

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Hong Kong auteur tweaks early effort

By Matt Brunson

ASHES OF TIME REDUX

DIRECTED BY Wong Kar Wei

STARS Leslie Cheung, Brigitte Lin

The motion picture as mood ring, Ashes of Time Redux is another Wong Kar Wei production that relies as much (if not more) on the sensations created by its aural and visual flourishes than on any narrative devices. Originally released in 1994 as Ashes of Time, the movie has since faced challenges both from within (a deteriorating negative) and without (bootleg copies all over the planet). Thus, the Hong King auteur behind In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express decided to construct what's basically a "director's cut" — trimming off seven minutes, enhancing the visuals, adding extra musical notes (by Yo-Yo Ma) — and this tinkering has effectively brought the film back from the margins of Wong's canon.

In a picture packed with many leading lights of Asian cinema, Leslie Cheung plays the central part of Ouyang Feng, a martial arts killer-for-hire who resides in a distant desert. Within the span of one year, he's visited by an assortment of allies, enemies and strangers — among them are a feuding brother and sister (both played by Brigitte Lin) who just might turn out to be the same person; a blind swordsman (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) prepared to go out in a blaze of glory (is this character an homage to Japan's legendary Zatoichi?); and a poor warrior (Jacky Cheung) who agrees to help a young woman (Charlie Yeung) gain her revenge against a gang of murderous thieves.

Ashes of Time (and, by extension, Ashes of Time Redux) earned a reputation for shouldering an impenetrable narrative, but the truth is that the story isn't nearly as complicated as one might expect. Its denseness instead comes from the fact that it holds less interest to Wong than the images he creates for the screen. Through cinematographer Christopher Doyle's visions — and with a powerful assist from composers Frankie Chan and Roel A. Garcia — Wong wordlessly ensnares viewers in his movie's tightening web of wonders.

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