Feng is an agent for freelance swordsmen looking for some dirty work. You could call him a cutthroat’s
cutthroat. Likewise, when it comes to
love, he is a cynic’s cynic. If you
suppose a woman was the cause of his hardened heart, you would be correct. It is a logical guess, considering Wong Kar
Wai’s Ashes of Time Redux (trailer here) screens this
Friday as part of the Asia Society’s film series Goddess: Chinese Women on Screen.
of adapting Louis Cha’s epic novel The
Eagle-Shooting Heroes, Wong conceived of an original pseudo-prequel that
can be fully appreciated without prior familiarity with its inspiration. Every year, the swashbuckler Huang Yaoshi
pays a visit to his friend Ouyang’s desert home. Both are men with complicated pasts. For his latest visit, Huang brings a bottle
of supposedly enchanted wine that is said to induce forgetfulness. Huang imbibes. Ouyang does not.
Huang disappears, apparently under the effects of the potent drink, Ouyang
carries on with business. However, his
next clients are somehow involved with his soul-sick friend. Clan leader Murong Yang recruits Ouyang to
murder Huang in retribution for spurning his sister, Murong Yin. Soon thereafter, the sister tries to hire
Ouyang to murder her compulsively controlling brother. In a hallucinatory evening (which is par for
the course in Ashes), Ouyang realizes
Yin and Yang are the same divided person.
seasons pass, but it is hard judge time in the desert. Ouyang recruits a wandering swordsman to
defend the village from a band of outlaws.
His skills are formidable, but he is rapidly losing his sight. The man’s one desire is to see his native
land once again before going completely blind.
Eventually, Ouyang also yearns for home, where the woman he once loved
lives as his brother’s wife.
Redux is the restored
and reworked de facto director’s cut of Ashes
Wong oversaw when he realized how many dubious copies of the film were in
circulation. Featuring fight choreography
by Sammo Hung, it is quite stylistically daring by martial art film standards,
bordering on the outright experimental.
There is indeed a fair amount of combat, but the action is rendered
impressionistically blurred, almost like a series of freeze frames.
promised, there are also several divas, including Brigitte Lin in sort of a
dual role as the Murongs. Although she
is always recognizable, Lin brings a conviction to both personas that keeps the
audience off-balance. Yet, it is Maggie
Cheung who really lowers the diva boom as the woman from Ouyang’s past. Emotionally devastating but never indulgent
or showy, it might represent the best second for second cameo ever. As a bonus, Charlie Young is a genuinely
haunting presence as the peasant girl out to avenge her brother.
the film’s color palette reportedly varies depending on its various editions,
any retrospective of cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s work ought to start or
finish with Ashes. The golds and burnt-umbers of Redux are absolutely striking. Frankly, Ashes
Redux is a daring classic of the genre that might be new to a lot of people
who might think they have seen it already (like a wuxia Bladerunner). Highly
recommended, Ashes of Time Redux screens
this Friday (12/7) at the Asia Society.
Labels: Brigitte Lin, Goddess Chinese Women on Screen, Maggie Cheung, Martial arts cinema, Wong Kar Wai