The original 1994 version of Ashes of Time is probably the least well known of Hong Kong master Wong Kar Wai’s nine feature films. There are numerous reasons for this: its batshit, inscrutable narrative; its lack of a proper theatrical release in the U.S.; and the need for a definitive DVD being at the top of the list. That's all changed with the release of Ashes of Time Redux, which debuted at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and was followed by a brief art-house run in the U.S. last fall.
While Wong’s restored version does little to clear up its elliptical narrative — the film is inspired by an epic martial-arts novel that centers on a pair of desolation-ridden mercenaries — its rapturous, color-saturated images and its new score more than make up for any cognitive dissonance.
Shunned by mainstream Asian audiences because of its disregard for martial-arts conventions, Ashes of Time instead uses its gorgeous, star-studded cast (Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau, Brigitte Lin and both Tony Leungs) to explore Wong’s pet themes of time, memory and romantic longing, while at the same time taking his now obvious formal gifts to new heights. Think of it as Wong’s version of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western.
The DVD’s “special features” include a brief documentary on the making of the film (which includes an illuminating interview with Wong’s ace cinematographer, Chris Doyle) and a Q&A with the director moderated by Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman, who calls Ashes of Time “insanely gorgeous” and Wong “one of the greatest filmmakers to emerge anywhere in the last 20 years.” I’ll second both of those observations. Grade: A-