Thursday, August 07, 2008

"Do pineapple?"

If you've ever seen "Ashes of Time", Wong Kar-Wai's hallucinatory acid Wuxia from 1994, then you'll know that it is possibly his most frustrating film.* A bold, beautiful, elliptical attempt to transpose his usual themes of lost love and memory to a genre devoted more typically to displays of physical combat, the result is often stunning and occasionally maddening. References to Resnais and Leone jostle with kung fu battles and sublimely composed shots, the whole thing suffused with that unique atmosphere only Wong can produce - a melancholy longing for the past, for a love which has slipped away. But it never fully works. It feels like the quintessential flawed masterpiece. You get the feeling that Wong gave up, exhausted from battling to turn it into the film he knew it could be. In truth, he wrote "Chungking Express" during a hiatus from the marathon editing process of "Ashes" as a way to clear his mind. Its stark, buzzing urban mise en scene could not really be further from the desert landscapes of "Ashes", and yet the two films, like all of Wong's, have a similar tone and even feel.

Well, Wong returned to "Ashes of Time" to take another crack at it, and the result - "Ashes of Time Redux" - screened at the Cannes film festival in May, and is released in the UK next month. If nothing else, it will be great to have an opportunity to view the film in a decent print, with legible, coherent subtitles, since the various versions available worldwide on DVD are all substandard in one way or another. "Redux", however, is digitally remastered, and looks fantastic:

I wish he'd spend more time making movies, and less time doing adverts and pop promos. But then, his adverts don't feel remotely like anything else. Sometimes they don't even feel like adverts. Take "Theres Only One Sun", a Phillips commission from last year which Wong has shaped into a nine minute meditation on the usual themes and stuffed with ravishing, near abstract imagery. The narrative is more or less non-existent, the advertisement a subsidiary concern. Buyt some of those compositions and that colour palette are just breathtaking.

* Excluding "My Blueberry Nights", perhaps.



Blogger Ross said...

I've always wanted to see Ashes of Time, so I was excited when I saw this on the Apple trailer page yesterday, but to me it still has some of the washed-out degradation of badly looked after Hong Kong cinema.
If the release looks the same as the trailer it would have been better if Hong Kong Legends had secured the rights, perhaps releasing via the Premier Asia label with a small art house run before the DVD/Blu Ray release. The jobs they've done in restoration are miraculous and that would be what a WKW feature deserves.

As for the advert (for what?), the more abstract WKW doesn't sit well with me, visually if not thematically. It just seems like a Milla Jovovich clone alternately wandering through Colourscape (
and sitting in a period car, bringing back memories of what I didn't like about 2046.

10:27 am  
Blogger 1minutefilmreview said...

Can't wait to see the redux version too...

7:33 pm  
Blogger David N said...

See, I liked more or less everything about 2046. Its purest WKW. It feels like a sketchbook, almost - all his most important visual obsessions, all his themes, all his ideas are in there. Over and over. Its beautiful.

Ashes of Time on a big screen - even in a ho-hum print - is an absolute must.

10:00 pm  

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