The announcement that Sony Pictures Classics picked up Wong Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights for US distribution was followed by the fact that they also picked up Wong's Ashes of Time Redux due to be finished in the fall. Ashes of Time Redux is a reworking of Wong's 1994 Ashes of Time and is suspected to be a re-edit that includes footage not in the original. Ashes boasts the amazing cast of Tony Leung Kai-Fa, Leslie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung Chu-Wai, Charlie Yeung, Jacky Cheung, Carina Lau, and Maggie Cheung. (Joey Wong also starred but her scenes were deleted in the original; one can only hope she will resurface in Redux.) Sony Pictures Classics, who also released 2046, will probably keep Ashes of Time Redux in their back pocket pending My Blueberry Nights success.
Ashes of Time is loosely based on the very popular martial arts novel by Jin Yong, that usually gets translated to Eagle Shooting Heroes. I see Ashes as Wong's martial arts version of In the Mood For Love, with lots more characters. It is equally contemplative and full of longing and sorrow. The embattled production of Ashes mirrors that of ITMFL with the big difference being that the Cannes Film Festival wasn't waiting for it. Wong spent two years in the Western provinces of China shooting the film, and a good six months at the editing table. The stalled production gave birth to three films: Jeff Lau's hilarious Eagle Shooting Heroes incorporating not only the same story but the same cast as Ashes with Wong as producer; Wong cranked out Chungking Express in two months during an editing break in Hong Kong; and eventually Fallen Angels was the result of an extra vignette he could not work into Chungking Express.
Ashes of Time is my personal favorite Wong Kar Wai film, but its sublime and convoluted nature turns most people away. I'm in love with this movie in many ways: the images, the music, the soulful characters, and of course the romance of the knight errant in the form of a swordsman. But this film has been in desperate need of a decent DVD for years. Although I have been lucky enough to have seen Ashes twice on the big screen, I am embarrassed how many time I have watched the deplorable DVD versions of this film. Both available versions from Hong Kong are pan scan to the point where the image gets cropped on the top, bottom, left and right at some point. There was a French DVD that came out about a year ago that reportedly has a much better image, but alas, was cut by about eight minutes and has no English subs. Rumors abound when Criterion put ITMFL out with bonus features that included what seemed like remastered clips of Ashes, but has yet to come to fruition.
Who knows what changes Wong has in mind for Ashes of Time, and I'm oddly at ease with a new version of a film that I hold so near and dear to my heart. I guess I feel that if there is something Wong would like to change, I would like to see it. I also know that the chances of getting a remastered version of the original on DVD just got better.