Ashes of Time (1994, Wong Kar Wai) Possible spoilers
I haven’t seen many Wong Kar Wai films, but judging from the ones I have seen, he concentrates very much on telling tales about people falling in and out of love using superb aesthetic qualities to translate the emotional resonance he intends on sharing with the viewer.
Well, Ashes of Time of Time is undoubtedly a tale of about love (among other things), and it’s clear from the get go that visually and musically Wong is prepared to serve the dish with a particular flare. Ashes main character is a swordsman, Ou-yang Feng played stoically by Leslie Cheung, who lives in the desert and acts, for the lack of a better term, as a gun for hire. People know he ‘solves’ problems, they come to him, offer a wage, and he’s off with his sword to take care of business, literally. Other times he sub contracts his job to other swordsmen. The story behind the story is far more complicated however, probably intentionally so from Wong, and actually involves and old lover who Cheung never told he loved her and has now married his elder brother. This aspects haunts Feng throughout the film.
Wong’s film will challenge the viewer, especially if he or she has trouble remembering names. There really are a lot of characters in the film. It was, admittedly, a bit difficult figuring out who was who. Tony Leung (from Chungking) plays a blind swordsman, another Tony Leung plays a swordsman who has stumbled upon a wine that causes memory loss, Brigitte Lin plays a women Tony Leung was supposed to marry but didn’t AND plays a women disguised as a man who wants to avenge Tony Leung’s behavior, etc. The list could go on for a while… To make matters worse, not all of the story arcs retained my interest. The ones dealing with loves that had turned to tragedy did however. There is something rather poetic about the script, the characters and the tone of the film. It certainly isn’t easy to sit through, but if you can make it all the way through, you’ll be rewarded with a special experience. Many of these characters are stoic towards their love, yet it’s clear that many of them are suffering in some way or another. The main character for instance has made a conscience decision to leave his past and now must live with the consequences, despite the emotional scar he carries with him. If he could forget his past, then things would be fine, but forgetting such a past as his is next to impossible. Interestingly, this is shown in two clever ways in the film, although I won’t spoil them here. There’s no turning back.
To add to the mood is the visual splendor of the film. Several shots would be worthy of having as posters. I also didn’t know what to expect from the action sequences. They aren’t of the highest quality overall, but there are some interesting surprises, one of them being a character who blows fire off the tip of his sword. No, that last phrase wasn’t a typo.
Not my favorite Wong movie amongst those I have seen, but still worth your time if you like your sword fighting movies to have a rather psychological and introspective flavor to them.