Ashes of Time Redux

October 10, 2008

Last weekend, I was looking at movie trailers and was stunned to see one for Ashes of Time Redux, a new director’s cut of Wong Karwai’s unknown (in the West) 1994 arthouse wuxia masterpiece. The NYTimes review gives an okay sense of the feel of the movie, but has no clue about the content or where it comes from.

Ashes of Time (literal Chinese title: “The Evil of the East, The Poison of the West” referring to the two main characters’ nicknames) is like the Watchmen of wuxia, since it takes Jin Yong’s Legend of the Condor-Shooting Heroes, the most famous modern wuxia novel, and totally deconstructs it, showing the aging heroes as alcoholics, going blind, feeling sorrow over their wasted lives, going insane, etc. The movie ended up taking so long to make that Wong shot two other movies, Chungking Express and a comedy parody of Jin Yong’s novel, during breaks from shooting, using the same cast, sets, and costumes in some cases.

In the history of arthouse wuxia, which would eventually give us Crouching Tiger and later ‘wuxia blockbusters,’ Ashes of Time is only really proceeded by Ronny Yu’s 1993 film, The Bride with White Hair, which contains half the same cast (Leslie Cheung, Bridgette Lin) and probably started filming after Ashes. Another early 90’s film with some of the same traits is Tsui Hark’s 1993 Green Snake, but it’s a bit sillier, even with Maggie Cheung in the title role.

All of which is to say: see this cut of Ashes if you get the chance. It’s a really bizarre, moody take on wuxia, but it’s definitely worthwhile.

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