Ashes of Time
"A must see film, although it surely will not cater to all tastes."
- Vic Nguyen
Ashes of Time (1994)
Literally: East Evil West Poison
Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Producer: Sung-lin Tsai
Writer: Wong Kar-Wai
Action Director: Sammo Hung Kam-Bo
Cast: Leslie Cheung Kwok-Wing, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia, Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Carina Lau Ka-Ling, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Charlie Yeung Choi-Nei
Running Time: 94 min.
Plot: Shot in mainland China, this perversely lavish, self-consciously new wave martial arts film is a languorous, sultry, sensuous action reverie. Accompanied by wailing flutes or solo electric guitar, it's set in a desert wilderness populated by a gang of angst ridden, lovelorn swordsmen-for-hire. One is going blind, another turning amnesiac, the rest are haunted by their various memories.
NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: A very poetic multiple-storyline drama featuring a veritable cornucopia of mentally unbalanced and emotionally unstable characters who never make eye contact with one another and who speak like those black-wearing anemia victims who wrote all those poems about suicide for your high school's twice-a-year literary magazine. The title is certainly appropriate; time does not flow normally in this movie. It jumps all over the place, makes loops, and skips 70% of the frames during the blurry sword fights. Sammo Hung choreographed these, but you'd never know it because you can never tell what the hell is going on, except when somebody loses a finger or nearly gets their tits sliced off. The slaying, whining, and philosophizing are accompanied by some pretty cool, surprisingly modernized music.
This film is not for those who use antidepressant drugs. Everyone just stares at the ground and elaborates on why their life is so miserable to anybody willing to listen. The only merriment is when somebody starts laughing because they have been driven insane by life's ultimate hopelessness and futility. And hey, that's fine by me. I've always felt that a thick layer of arsenic is in order to combat the sickening sugar coating that so much of the entertainment industry has put on existence in general. What pisses me off, though, is all the romantic elements here. Aren't people capable of reaching the conclusion that life sucks and then you die without getting widowed or jilted or left at the altar?
If you don't pay close attention you're gonna be fucked because there are quite a few characters to keep track of and the movie flows without rhyme or reason, jumping from one scenario to another and back again with dizzying frequency. I'm sure I didn't catch everything the first time through but frankly I'm in no hurry to watch it again. It didn't exactly keep me glued to my seat but I can see where others would really like it. I know Wong Kar-wai is something of a sacred cow to some people and this lukewarm review of his movie will harm my credibility with some folks who frequent this website, but I don't write these things to make friends. That's my opinion, take it or leave it.
NUMSKULL'S RATING: 6/10
VICTOR NGUYEN'S REVIEW: Earning multiple nominations at the 1994 Hong Kong Film Awards, this swordplay epic for the arthouse crowd is one which could only come from heralded filmmaker Wong Kar-wai. Presented in a disjointed narrative, the numerous characters and subplots will confuse and puzzle upon first viewing, which is why multiple showings is a must in order to fully appreciate this thought provoking production. The cast, which includes nearly every major star working in Hong Kong, all deliver fantastic performances, while Christopher Doyle's extravagant cinematography illuminates the exotic locales in which the movie was filmed at. A must see film, although it surely will not cater to all tastes.
VICTOR NGUYEN'S RATING: 8.5/10