Reviews - Ashes of Time Redux
Ashes of Time Redux
Reviewed By John Stakes
How did the film score this time round? The story line centred on Leslie Cheung’s Ouyang Feng, a reclusive self-obsessed swordsman now living a remote hermit-like desert existence atop the aptly named White Camel Mountain. From this elevated position he hones his skills as a “fixer” by which he engages swordsmen to undertake contract killings it seems for similarly self centred unfortunates, mainly lonely women suffering pangs of unrequited love and loss.
Just as we had begun to soak up the sumptuous photography the plotting turned inscrutable in the best of Chinese traditions, and it was tempting just to succumb to what was a cinematic assault upon the senses than to attempt a western understanding of an eastern mindset. There was certainly plenty to admire in the realm of the senses: Christopher Doyle’s photography was breathtakingly striking, a mosaic of images often in reflection to emphasise the film’s dream-like quality, accompanied by a soundtrack full of clashing and flashing steel, pounding hooves, and a soaring pulsating musical score.
Wai’s direction was masterful with thrilling changes of pace supported by adroit editing which infused the more languid scenes with mystery, and, in the battle sequences, captured the flashing symmetry of warrior swordplay but not so graphically (as is often found in many martial arts movies) as to overwhelm the film’s essentially contemplative and lyrical feel.
The reward for not straining to understand the film’s intricate plotting and Wai’s thinking was a growing realisation that the film was developing at least a cohesive quality as Wai experimented with time, memory and the natural world to bring home some fundamental truths to these lost and vengeful souls about life and love in which Feng and his disembodied voice were pivotal. The film becomes kaleidoscopic as Wai interlinks four scenes in which Feng’s services are sought (which compel him to reflect upon his own life) each occupying a season in the year to underline the cyclical nature of life. Tai Chi is introduced to demonstrate darkness and light, male and female, and the waxing and waning of life in two characters, a sister and her brother appropriately named Murang Yin and Murang Yan both played by Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia who also serves to personify the tricks of memory recall.
In purely narrative terms it emerged that Feng and his elder brother were orphaned at an early age, and Feng grew up unable to form close relationships. His life almost disintegrated when he lost the love of his life to his brother when he chose to leave home to fight, having failed to declare his love before leaving. As spring returns and Feng reaches forty he has learned the universal truth that nothing really changes and life’s journey ends when we discover our true selves.
Throughout its ninety minutes screen time Wai remained in compete control of this Chinese puzzle of a picture lying somewhere between Confucius and the confusing, in which some rather big themes were obliquely and hauntingly aired - perhaps to provoke as much thought and reflection upon one’s own life as to understand the hearts and minds of those on screen. If so he succeeded. Pure cinema.
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