19 November 2008

At the movies: Ashes of Time redux.

In this moody reconstruction of his 1994 wu xia (think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or Curse of the Golden Flower) epic, Wong Kar-Wai (In The Mood for Love, Chungking Express) brings us a series of interconnected tales of men and women, wounded by love and betrayal, enduring recursive patterns in their lives, waiting for another chance at happiness to find them.

After the mixed response to his 2007 English-language debut My Blueberry Nights, rightfully acclaimed director Wong Kar-Wai decided to undertake a restoration of this film, but when they tried to begin the process, they found the original negatives in horrible shape, and a more radical course of action was deemed necessary. So Wong re-edited the film, adjusting the colors and eliding some moments. The digital recoloration of Christopher Doyle’s remarkable cinematography and slight tweaks and edits here and there don’t diminish any of the film’s grandeur, though they do allow it to take its thematic place amongst Wong’s more recent work (especially 2046). And because of it, the mere sight of a wicker birdcage will fill you with an immense and timeless sadness

It’s mind-boggling to audiences today to look at the cast Wong has at his disposal here. The late Leslie Cheung, both Tony Leungs (Chiu-Wai and Ka-Fai), Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, and even Sammo Hung handling the abstract and unusual action choreography... So much has happened since then, both globally and in the lives of those icons of Hong Kong cinema; that wu xia itself is now an exportable film genre couldn’t possibly have been predicted. But it is a testament to all involved that Ashes of Time has endured as a modern classic. As dizzyingly romantic a night at the movies as one could hope for.

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