Look up the word “auteur” in the dictionary, and chances are you’ll find a picture of Wong Kar-Wai. The Hong Kong director has made a career from films that are unmistakably for anyone else’s, combining striking and lavish visuals with poignant stories about alienation, unrequited love, and loss. Of course, that has led some to label his films indulgent and confusing, and it’s easy to see why; he may take years to make a film, and since he never shoots from a script, his films can be meandering and confusing, with obtuse characters and ever-present voice-overs full of all kinds of existential ponderings about fate and human relationships.
Those criticisms are no more apparent than with Ashes of Time, Wong Kar-Wai’s only wuxia (martial arts) film. In some ways, Ashes of Time is the most Wong Kar-Wai-ish of the man’s films. Here, all of his stylistic tendencies are in their purest, most distilled forms. Like several Wong Kar-Wai films, the film consists of several storylines, but in Ashes of Time, they all revolve around a group of melancholy swordsmen out in the wilderness, and the regrets and losses that they struggle with amidst all of the violence and brutality of their profession.
It can be a difficult film to watch — I’ll confess to falling asleep the first time I watched it — but it can also be a beautiful film to watch, full of striking visuals (including Maggie Cheung at her most radiant — and world weary) and action sequences like no other. Sadly though, a proper version of the film has been impossible to find, despite the love showered on Wong’s other films, such as In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express. But that’s all changed: Wong has gone back to his wuxia film, remastering and re-editing it into a “Redux” edition to play on the festival circuit before coming out on DVD.
Click here to watch the trailer for Ashes of Time Redux, via Twitch.