Saturday, May 24, 2008

Three cheers for ASHES OF TIME REDUX

Sure, there is lots to talk about when it comes to screenings that happened last week at Cannes, but I am most interested in the swoony swordplay film from 1994. I haven't even seen it yet and I like it. The reports, paltry as they seem, are in on Wong Kar Wai's reworking of Ashes of Time and I am very encouraged. As it sounds, Ashes of Time Redux is less of a redux than a resurrection. From prints that would put Robert Rodriguez's faux-weathered Planet Terror to shame, as Wong explained to the Guardian's Xan Brooks, "the film has been pieced together from various old and rotting copies, using the waterlogged negatives he rescued from a bankrupt Hong Kong laboratory and augmenting it with footage dredged up from distributors in San Francisco's Chinatown district." (Although it doesn't explain the deplorable pan-scan of the existing DVDs of Ashes of Time, it would explain the poor quality and why there has not been better versions.)

Changes to the original include a new running time that clocks in 5 minutes shorter (from 98 to 93 minutes) and a "rearranged" score by Wu Tong including cello solos by Yo-Yo Ma. The content change seems minimal, with Lee Marshall of Screen Daily attributing the different running time mostly to credits. (He also claims that a water scene with Brigitte Lin looks new, but there was a water scene in the original, as I recall, the fight between Yin and Yang, but whatever.) I'm curious about the changes to the score, simply because I love Frankie Chan's original score so much. Is it a different score? Or is it just rerecorded? Or just rearranged with a little Yo-Yo Ma. I don't really get it, but I'm sure I will find out soon enough.

For me the biggest and best news is that Wong did not really rework this film. I was plagued by the idea that the film I knew and loved was not the film he wanted to make after all. Fortunately, it seems that Wong has simply taken this opportunity (to wash the bad taste of My Blueberry Nights from his palette?) to remaster Ashes of Time. All accounts say that fans of the film (that's me) will be thrilled, and those perplexed the first time, may still be perplexed. On the flip side maybe Ashes never found its audience to begin with and I may find more kindred spirits for swoony swordplay films. Sony has picked Redux up for US distribution. I look forward to the many theater screenings.

(Above is the new poster for Ashes of Time Redux. Below is the beautiful Japanese one-sheet giveaway that I have.)


1minutefilmreview said...

Nice article. We loved the film, will watch the redux version ASAP. You gotta watch it too kathie, we're sure you'll love it!

joetron2030 said...

Hmm... If/when this reaches DVD, I'll have to watch it again.

I think my dislike of "Ashes of Time" is mostly tied to the crummy DVD. It was painful to watch just because the picture quality was so poor. Which is sad because I haven't seen a WKW movie that I didn't enjoy (though I haven't seen "My Blueberry Nights" yet).

Thanks for the heads up on this!

Kathie Smith said...

I would definitely recommend giving it another try, and it is very possible it will play theatrically here - which would absolutely be the way to see it. Asian Media Access actually screened it a couple times in town probably ten years back, but that 35mm print was nothing to write home about. (But a fer cry better than the DVDs!) Redux will definitely be out on DVD at some point, and probably even Blu-ray.

I was pretty disappointed with My Blueberry Nights, but you should check it out