A complex but beautiful film with characters and a storyline that has so much layers, it's very hard even 15-years later to even describe.
Wong Kar-wai's "ASHES OF TIME" which is an adaption of Louis Cha's popular novels "The Legend of Condor Heroes" but yet unrelated gets remastered and re-edited and has been released in theaters in 2008 under the title "ASHES OF TIME REDUX" and will be released on DVD in March 2009.
The choice of revisiting the film was due to a major film warehouse going into bankruptcy in 1998 and Kar-Wai was asked to pick up his film or lose it. Upon finding the film, the film was in pieces. Kar-Wai knew that he wanted to re-edit the film, part of the challenge that he faced was trying to get the film from International distributors and literally having to go worldwide in trying to get the film footage needed to restore the film and then re-editing it.
Five years in trying to get the pieces and restoring it, the film has been reduced from 100 minutes to 93 minutes. ADR could not have been done but there was new digital color tinting, digital effects and altered scenes which certain music-based scenes were removed and also some parts during the battle.
So, essentially, what we are seeing is Wong Kar-wai's final vision of "ASHES OF TIME". Whether or not "REDUX" is for you, to tell you the truth, I think that for many people, unless you got hold of the film on DVD and recently watched it, I would assume that many people, like myself, who probably won't remember the film plot may not be able to tell the differences between the original and the re-edited version. Especially with so much time has passed but if this is Wong Kar-wai's definitive cut, then so be it, I would rather watch the film as he intended it to be.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
I understand the challenges they faced during the restoration and remastered process of having to go worldwide for certain parts of the film because the original film was in pieces and in bad shape. But for fans of Wong Kar-wai and even Christopher Doyle's cinematography, the film was what "HERO" did for many in 2002 but in this case, back in 1994. The film was avant-garde for its time and the cinematography was just amazing.
For "REDUX", visuals and digital color tinting and digital remastering has brought out a lot of the earthtones, the greens, the blues and where the outdoor scenery are quite beautiful, there are other scenes on video that looked great from Maggie Cheung's lipstick to just how color was a big part of the film.
With that being said, I struggle with with my review because after watching the Criterion Blu-ray disc of "Chungking Express" (which was released in the same year as "ASHES OF TIME" in 1994), I saw how Criterion really made the film look great 15-years later. Although, I'm not watching "ASHES OF TIME REDUX" on Blu-ray, I couldn't help but notice the amount of grain in the film.
I'm typically not against grain because film is supposed to have grain but I found the graininess in full force. In fact, some scenes seemed a bit blurry at times. This was more evident in the beginning but as the film progressed, grain was noticeable but yet you start to notice about the positive things such as the acting, cinematography and the music.
As for audio, the film features a re-edit and that includes the score. For the most part, the film is pretty much dialogue-based. Dialogue is clear and the use of the rear channels for the music was nicely done for some scenes.
But overall, I didn't notice anything spectacular during the battle scenes, if anything it was during the musical sequences.
The "ASHES OF TIME REDUX" DVD features three special features. They are:
* Born from Ashes: The Making of ASHES OF TIME REDUX - This featurette features interviews with Wong Kar-wai, Christopher Doyle, some of the talents in the film, Yoyo Ma and others. The featurette was informative but to tell you the truth, for those wanting to know the differences of REDUX rom the original, you're not going to find it on this featurette.
* Q&A with Wong Kar-Wai - This 45-minute featurette features an interview with Wong Kar-wai which I assume was for the New York Film Festival Q&A session in late 2008. This was an awesome featurette as you got to go into the mind of Wong Kar-wai and some rumors put to rest such as "is it true that Wong Kar-wai doesn't use scripts" to learning about how challenging it was for the HK stars to work in mainstream China and travel over there. Cast and crew had major difficulties filming in the desert and how Maggie Cheung refused to go to China, thus her shots were all indoor in Hong Kong. Learning about his relation with his editor William Chang and DP Christopher Doyle and how the three are a great team. A lot of interesting tidbits of facts for those who are curious about Wong Kar-Wai's work.
* "ASHES OF TIME REDUX" Trailer
Let me first say that I enjoyed "ASHES OF TIME REDUX" for its cinematography and the acting by all those involved. Visually, at that time and even now, knowing how challenging it was for Wong Kar-Wai, Christoper Doyle and the cast to film "ASHES OF TIME", what they were able to create in the end was artistic. But at the same time, the overall plot can be a bit complex for some.
It's a film that has so many layers and I've watched this film many times in the past and watched "REDUX" twice now, just to see what I can get from it. And each time, I do... it's a melancholic feeling of loneliness, sadness, rejection, betrayal but aside from the visual aspect and the complexity of the film, I guess it depends on the viewer for interpretation and what they get out of it.
Throughout the years, I've met may who have been able to watch this film and look at it as an early masterpiece by Wong Kar-Wai. For me, from 15 years ago and today, I still feel that the film set many things in motion for current martial arts films in Hong Kong and how far one can go if they put all they have to it.
I realize Wong Kar-Wai calls this his "Days of Being Wild", when he and his team created this film and overcome a lot of challenges of filming in Western China, Christopher Doyle using no tripod or dollies. And really pushing the envelope of HK filmmaking in 1994. And they continue to do it today.
So, I see "ASHES OF TIME REDUX" for what it accomplished when it first was released in 1994 and how it paved the way for many HK martial arts/wuxia genre-based films. Before a film like "HERO" or "RED CLIFF", what "ASHES OF TIME" did for me was show determination, hope and creativity.
"ASHES OF TIME REDUX" on DVD does shows its age and is hampered with a lot of grain but with his other 1994 film "Chungking Express" receiving the Blu-ray treatment, I often wonder if going 1080P high-definition improve the video quality dramatically.
I will say that the two featurettes included on the DVD is priceless. Any interviews with Wong Kar-wai on video are quite rare and thus, I really enjoyed the inclusion of those two.
All in all, "ASHES OF TIME REDUX" is definitely a nostalgic piece of avant-garde filmmaking and beautiful cinematography. But it's one of those films that either one gets it or they don't. Nevertheless, it's a Wong Kar-wai film worth watching.