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Arts & Culture

Ashes of Time Redux

The gender-bending Brigit Lin in Wong Kat Wai's Ashes of Time Redux (Sony Pictures Classics)

Wong Kar Wai's Ashes of Time was one of the first Hong Kong movies I saw and it captured that giddy sense of energy and experimentation that typified the Hong Kong New Wave of the 80s and early 90s. Of those New Wave Hong Kong filmmakers, no one was more rapturously romantic than Wong, even when he was obstensibly doing a martial arts action flick. The film was released in 1994 but Wong recently went back to give it a makeover -- improving the colors, adjusting the sound, and making other tweaks for what would become Ashes of Time Redux (opened November 28 at Landmark's Ken Cinema).

Although each of Wong Kar Wai's films has a distinctly different flavor, they all draw, in varying degrees, on a similar pool of ideas. These ideas include a stylish manipulation of time, a fascination with violence, a penchant for tangled romantic relationships and a preference for alienated characters. With Ashes of Time , Wong offers an elegiac, art house take on the traditional Hong Kong martial arts epic. He defies genre expectations with his complex plotting and melancholy voiceovers, and delivers a genre-bending period actioner that simply takes your breath away. Working with Australian-born cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Wong creates a striking visual style that relies on evocative sepia tones and an expressionistic blurred slow motion. Veteran star and director Sammo Hung provides the action choreography that is carefully tailored to each character's personality.

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Breathlessly defying gravity as only Hong Kong movies can do (Sony Pictures Classics)

In an interview with me, Wong explained that " Ashes of Time is like my whole experience about martial arts movies, the entire genre, so I want the music to be very much like Ennio Morricone." And Frankie Chan's score does pay homage to Morricone and highlight the influence that Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns have on this film. Like Leone, Wong manages to pay his respects to a genre while also slyly commenting on the conventions. The result is visually stunning and stylistically audacious. It also boasts a delicious all-star cast that includes Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia, Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Kar-fai, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Jacky Cheung and a breathtakingly gorgeous Maggie Cheung. Ashes of Time Redux (rated R for some violence and in Cantonese and Manmdarin with English subtitles) offers that rare combination of eye candy and substantial food for thought. Savor it.

Companion viewing: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; In the Mood for Love; Swordsman II

Corrected: July 24, 2024 at 3:19 AM PDT
Companion viewing: "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; In the Mood for Love; Swordsman II"