Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald
You should know going in that you will not be able to digest the beautifully convoluted narrative of Ashes of Time Redux in one viewing, no matter how closely you’re paying attention. Originally made in 1994 (the same year Wong Kar Wai made his U.S. breakthrough with Chungking Express), the film has been released in a number of alternate versions and cuts over the ensuing 14 years. This new edit is the director’s definitive imagining of his martial arts fantasy, but that fact doesn’t make this version any easier to follow.
No matter. Wong’s films (Inthe Mood for Love, 2046) are rarely about plot and more often about mood and feeling and, mostly, melancholy. Ashes of Time Redux is set in ancient China and has sequences of sword-fighting, balletic action and equally balletic bloodletting. But action-hungry fans are bound to be baffled, if not outright irked, at Wong’s refusal to deliver the kinetic thrills the genre is known for, opting instead to shoot much of the big setpieces (and there aren’t that many) in impressionistic still frames, slow-motion and flash cuts.
In fact, Ashes of Time Redux, which centers on a hired assassin (Leslie Cheung) and the assortment of clients who come to see him, is a gorgeous, dreamy meditation on romantic longing and heartache. This digitally remastered and rescored edition (with music by Yo-Yo Ma) amps up cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s color palette to surreal extremes, reportedly incorporates bits of previously unseen footage (Wong refuses to reveal just how many, if any, new scenes are present) and makes the various stories about broken and lonely hearts a tad more streamlined.
But the film’s appeal remains. Ashes of Time Redux is primarily a sensory experience that deserves to be seen on as big a screen as possible. That’s where its lovely, haunting images — a sad-faced woman on a horse, the light reflected from a pool of water skittering across her face; the impossibly large shadows the bars of a bird cage cast across a room; a solitary figure traversing a nearly-pink desert under an impossibly blue sky — coalesce into a reverie of the sort of sweet, delicious sadness only a broken heart can generate.
Cast: Leslie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung.
Writer-director: Wong Kar Wai.
Producers: Wong Kar Wai, Jeffrey Lau, Jacky Pang Yee Wah.
A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 93 minutes. In Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles. Violence, gore. In Miami-Dade: Regal South Beach; in Palm Beach: Shadowood.