Ashes of Time (Redux) – Wong Kar Wai (2009)


It took 14 years, but Wong Kar-wai’s limp and enigmatic Ashes of Time finally has some life to it.

The new version of the 1994 film, now called Ashes of Time Redux (available this week on DVD), is a luscious visual poem set to the masterful images of Christopher Doyle, the graceful fight choreography of Sammo Hung and the unequaled cello of Yo-Yo Ma in a newly recorded score. The story, however, still falls flat.

Wong tells the tale of two swordsmen, Ou-yang Feng (Leslie Cheung) and Huang Yao-shi (Tony Leung Ka Fai), who will later (in Louis Cha’s 1957 novel, The Legend of the Condor Heroes) become bitter enemies, but for now are friends in love with the same woman (Maggie Cheung), whom neither can have.

Feng is estranged from his home and family when the woman he loves marries his brother. He’s set up shop in the middle of the desert, acting as a middleman for passing bounty hunters and killers, and those in need of such services. Yao-shi is just one of his many visitors, arriving once a year like clockwork to catch up, tell stories and, of course, share his bottle of magic wine.

In the jungle of a city, Wong can pull off this kind of small, intimate story of emotionally blocked characters trying to be set free with his eyes closed, but in the desert he’s lost. Weight and depth are sacrificed amid the jumbled story and those long, lingering shots of clouds passing. Wong meditates on every frame in order to extract every droplet of beauty, but it’s akin to grabbing our attention with a shiny object while the plot sneaks out the back door. It sure is pretty, though.

Redux clocks in at a slightly shorter running time than any of the previous versions Wong has offered. The tighter edit is a better fit, but ultimately, it’s not enough.

In Your Queue 02/27/13: Famous Oscar Snubs


We all know that the Academy often gets it wrong. Sometimes they get it right, but it’s fun to look back on some of the most egregious slights and wonder: What were they thinking? Relive some classic Oscar snubs and flubs by watching the following films now streaming online. Though it was nominated for a best director award, Orson Welles’ first film, Citizen Kane (available to stream on Amazon Instant Video), is widely regarded as the biggest Oscar snub of all time. Though some consider it the best movie ever made, Welles was deeply unpopular in Hollywood, mostly for his tangle with W.R. Hurst, his unheard-of contractual autonomy and the way he stepped on screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz and actress Marion Davies. The film was nominated for nine Oscars, but only received one, for best writing. Mankiewicz, in accepting the Oscar, quipped to cheers: “I am very happy to accept this award in Mr. Welles’ absence, because the script was written in Mr. Welles’ absence.”

Thirty-five years later, when Welles released the controversial but brilliant faux documentary F for Fake (available now on Hulu Plus), it was shut out completely. The challenging film about forgery and deception was not met with the general acclaim it enjoys now, but with hatred and confusion. The film submerges us in a world that is out to get us, full of liars, thieves and con men. A masterclass in the form of film and how it can be used, the film is essentially a prank on the viewer – but what a prank.

Ten years before Kane, it was Charlie Chaplin and his Little Tramp who were both shut out, even if they did make the blind see again in City Lights (available on Hulu Plus). Talkies had taken over by then, and Chaplin had his scandals around town to contend with. Both Welles and Chaplin received honorary Oscars in 1971 and 1972 respectively, but isn’t that just the Academy admitting that they got it wrong in the first place?

Best Foreign Language Film is a different thing altogether. It contains a defect in the rules, which allow each country to submit just one film. Certainly, one country can make more than one great film in a year. It’s a flaw that leaves films like Francois Truffaut’s tragically sumptuous Jules and Jim (available on Hulu Plus) and Wong Kar Wai’s subtle, gorgeous In the Mood for Love (available on Netflix) out in the cold, but sometimes that only raises a film’s profile in world.