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東邪西毒 (1994)
Ashes of Time

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 05/22/2009

I attended a recent screening of the "Redux" version in New York. Wow. I admit that I was not a big fan of this director before. I am, now.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 02/20/2009
Summary: Ashes of Time & Ashes of Time Redux review

ASHES OF TIME seems to have gone through a fair bit of rehabilitation since it was made. I remember the reviews at the time were quite negative to downright scathing. However, it has always had its hard core of followers, and as this sort of thing is quite fashionable these days, it was perhaps inevitable that the film would be “rediscovered”.

It soon became apparent upon watching the redux that to write about this film properly, I had to see the original too. Therefore, both versions are discussed here, having spent most of the weekend watching both versions, the extras on the new Artificial Eye Blu-ray and reading up on it. This has resulted in a longer review than normal, so try to stay awake at the back, please!

The film is based on the characters from Jin Yong’s novel Legend of the Condor Heroes and focuses on cynical, self-centred assassin Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung) as he goes through a year of his life in a remote desert lair. The other characters who weave in and out of his life include swordsman/woman with a gender-split personality (Brigitte Lin), old friend Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung Ka-Fai), young, idealistic swordsman Hong Qi (Jacky Cheung), a fellow swordsman losing his sight (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) and a love he lost to his elder brother (Maggie Cheung). There are mistaken identities, love triangles and the usual Wong Kar-Wai themes of love and longing are all very much present and correct.

There is an overall plot involving horse thieves terrorising a small village, which Ouyang Feng is occasionally paid to protect. However, this point is largely lost in the redux version. It does, however, set the scene for the battles that do occur in the film. But this is not an action film as such – one magazine reviewer I read back in the day described it as “an action film about inaction”, and that sums it up nicely, if a little too dismissively. To be honest, you’d be better off forgetting it’s a wuxia movie altogether, as it really doesn’t play by the usual rules.

There are several different threads in ASHES OF TIME, and some work better than others. Despite the jumbled chronology at times, most of the threads tend to resolve themselves before moving to the next one, and for this reason the movie feels quite episodic, although all of the tales involve Ouyang Feng. So while I enjoyed Jacky Cheung’s idealistic swordsman sub-story (complete with wife in tow) and the tragic story of Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s blind swordsman, I cared less for the Brigitte Lin section, which I thought was a bit melodramatic and Wong Kar-Wai handled it in a heavy-handed fashion. Furthermore, I felt that she overacted quite badly in a couple of scenes, which I thought was most unlike her.

In the end, ASHES OF TIME is always going to split fans down the middle. It has so little action (especially in the redux version) that it can’t be considered an action movie (despite Sammo Hung spending months on set choreographing the swordplay) and contains far too much action to be considered a typical Wong Kar-Wai film. It is perhaps best to overlook the wuxia elements (which aren’t too impressive anyway, relying too much on camera effects and quick editing) and see the film as a tale of lost love and whether or not it’s best to remember or forget.

Even though I hate to say something so passé, the movie was well ahead of its time, and I get the distinct impression that if King Hu had lived to see it he would have loved it to bits, despite ASHES OF TIME only spending one paltry year in production! Personally, although I admire the ambition and scope of the film, I find the overall effect is not as satisfactory as I’d like. Having said that, the denouement has considerable impact and the film’s final message is worth the journey. It’s just that the journey grinds to a halt a couple of times.

When discussing the differences in the available versions, I’ve decided not to do a comprehensive list of the changes in the redux (these can be found on the net without too much trouble) but simply give my opinions on them. The most startling omissions occur early in the film, with the removal of some swordplay footage, including an entire fight scene. Although only a short section, this removal has effectively changed the tone of the entire film, almost making the film shift away from the wuxia genre entirely. Instead, we get a couple of new cutaway shots of some sphere-shaped object that frankly baffled me. There are other cuts all over the place, but they’re all pretty minor. The only new footage (apart from a couple of better blood effects) is brief cutaway shots, which means the film’s running time is reduced by a couple of minutes. Apart from the opening scene with Ouyang Feng fighting the bandits, I honestly didn’t miss any of the omissions. The colour has been tweaked throughout, giving the film a bolder, more visually striking appearance, although sometimes the colour correction can be detected.

It’s more than just the visuals that have been tweaked though. The soundtrack has been overhauled too, with Frankie Chan’s music being rerecorded, somewhat inevitably, with cellist Yo Yo Ma. Blasphemous as it sounds, I don’t find the reworked soundtrack to be sacrilege, but if I was more familiar with the original soundtrack I may have had a different opinion. Watching the original, the synth soundtrack does date the film right in the middle of the 90s, while the new recordings seem a little more timeless.

The one change in the redux that helps the viewer is the inclusion of titles indicating the change of seasons. This separates the film into sections where different sub-stories end and start. I found this change probably the one main improvement over the original, personally. In any case, there’s nothing in the redux I found to be heresy, although again, if I knew the film as well as some fans, I may have had a different opinion.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: pat00139
Date: 03/04/2007
Summary: Amazing period piece

After ‘Days of Being Wild’ came out, the period epic swordplay subgenre became popular because of ‘Once Upon a Time in China’. Wong Kar-Wai, after having such a success with his previous effort, had the pick of his projects. He chose ‘Ashes of Time’, a period swordplay movie. The plot isn’t really important, it’s about a little inn run by Leslie Cheung and the people that come and go. Most of them fight a large group of people, some die, some live. The movie sucks you completely in within the first 10 minutes, so you can’t stop watching until the very end.

Having worked on the movie for so long (about 3 years), all the hidden meanings and sybolism are present, but they’re much more unseen than in Mr. Wong’s two previous movies. The movie’s dialogue is about half actual dialogue and half interior monologue. That’s incredibly effective. This is an ensemble cast, and I find it works much better this time in developing all the characters than ‘Days of Being Wild’. All the characters are distinct and all their stories are enveloping. Combine that with their personal thoughts and actions, and you get characters that are developed in your mind, not in the screen. You feel you know what these characters have gone through without them having to explain their entire lives. The brief glimpses of their past are enough to explain their present and their dialogue and thoughts explain the meaning behind the movie.

Early on, Leslie Cheung says, I can’t tell Yin and Yang apart. This is in reference to Brigitte Lin’s character, but you can easily overlook the direct meaning, right? Later on, after the guy loses his finger, he tells Mr. Cheung something like, I became like you, I didn’t want that. Knowing, say, the difference between companssion and apathy is, I presume, very important.

Maggie Cheung, who plays Leslie Cheung’s brother’s wife, says, ‘Nothing matters because everything changes’. Leslie Cheung’s character changes. At first he just hired people to kill other people. He doesn’t want to take any responsibility for anything. Later on, he’s willing to take the magic wine that makes you forget. He doesn’t want to have the past he has. He doesn’t want to go see the other side of the mountain anymore, like he used to. Everybody has a past, but the past isn’t important because the future won’t be the same. If you don’t listen to that, like Tony Leung, who’s going blind – who’s seeing things less and less – you don’t lead a happy life.

The emotional impact this movie has is incredible. The movie is gripping and packs a punch. ‘The Assassin’ and ‘Dragon Inn’ may be good, but ‘Ashes of Time’ is probably the best period swordplay movie to come out in that wave after ‘Once Upon a Time in China’. Some of the fights are done with the blurring effect Mr. Wong likes a lot, but some of them are just done in slow-motion. The effect is that it drags out all the suspense and intensity it can. You hear the travellers’ stories and you don’t want them to have a nasty end. Morality is on their side, but the main character lacks any such quality. It’s not sure how anything will turn out.

The movie’s cast and crew were the best what Hong Kong had to offer back then. Wong Kar-Wai, Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau, Brigitte Lin, Jacky Cheung, Charlie Yeung, Sammo Hung, Christopher Doyle, Andrew Lau and Frankie Chan worked on this project in some capacity or other. The movie won international awards and won many Hong Kong Film Awards, athough Wong Kar-Wai lost the best director award to himself for ‘Chungking Express’. The stunning cinematography by Christopher Doyle won the award, though, beating out… Christopher Doyle and Andrew Lau for ‘Chungking Express’.

Of all the period dramas that came out after ‘Once Upon a Time in China’, none can bring out your emotions like this one. The characters are strong and interesting, with a typically solid script by Mr. Wong. The direction is perfect with the fights designed to bring out the mood of the action rather than their technicality. The movie took about 3 years to make and it’s worth every second of it.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Anticlimacus
Date: 06/11/2006
Summary: A 95 Minute Smokescreen

Ashes of Time

To start off, this overrated swordplay epic showcases the infamous “slideshow” action sequence throughout, which is nothing more than an ultra-cheap and pathetic form of action choreography. One simply needs to show a series of close-up pictures of grimising faces, swords, legs and/or arms, and then a dead body. Bravissimo! You now have an action sequence for Ashes of Time. The problem lies not only in its poor quality but also in the fact that the scenes are so chaotic and disjointed that the viewer has no idea what the hell is going on.

The dramatic element of this film is nonexistent, as it relies on the characters telling the viewer that they love someone or hate someone instead of actually developing and showing such elements onscreen, which renders all characters generic and colorless, leaving the viewer completely indifferent to their actions. In fact, the storyline itself is an absolute disaster, introducing way too many characters way too quickly with way too many plot devices. Plot complexities in films can be used very advantageously (i.e., A Tale of Two Sisters), but Ashes of Time becomes exploitative trash when it does nothing more than convolute a very simple plot for no apparently good reason.

In fact, this entire movie acts like a series of smokescreens to cover up its deficiencies. Horrible action choreography is covered up by “slideshow” tricks and chaotic camera movements. Non-existent character development is covered up by the characters overtly saying how they feel. And a thoughtless storyline is covered up by confusing the viewer with convolution.

As if this weren’t bad enough, this movie was extremely boring, seeming more like 150 minutes instead of the actual 95.

Rating = A rarely given 0/5 Stars.

Reviewer Score: 1

Reviewed by: dandan
Date: 03/08/2006
Summary: do you know the difference between drinking wine and drinking water?

wong kar wai's wu xia film, although it owes more to westerns and samurai films, than it does to other hong kong offerings. the film is typically beautiful thanks to christopher doyle, but the print on the mei ah dvd is dreadful; let's hope that the wong supervised transfer (that was talked about last year) will finally emerge.

dealing with wongs usual themes of love and memory, the film focuses on leslie cheung; a cynical character who lives in the desert arranging murders for those that have the money. in a series of vignettes, a variety of characters pass through cheung's home or his memories...

brigette lin, tony leung (ka fai), tony leung (chui wai), charlie yeung, jacky cheung, carina lau and maggie cheung make up an all star supporting cast (although where was joey wong?), each coming into leslie cheungs life and, seemingly, leaving it just as quickly...

the stylised swordplay may not be for everyone's taste but, as exercises in the choreography of colour and movement, they work very well (even though it may seem slightly sacriligious to obscure sammo hung's choreography as such).

very good, but let's have a decent dvd sooner, rather than later...

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 06/18/2005
Summary: Extremely complicated...

Ashes of Time tells the story of a lonely swordsman and the people that come in and out of his life. Other than that, the plot is one of the most complicated I've ever come across, and I don't believe I can even start to explain it. There are about 4 main characters and all seem to be in love with each other and are constantly confiding their problems to one another. Everyone moves in and out of shadows and never seems to facing the camera, so you don't know who is who and what is going on. The action scenes are very choppy and utilize a camera sytle that tends to blur eveything that moves faster than normal actions. This makes the fight scenes (the few that there are) completely impossible to follow. Throw into the mix incomprehensible "deep" dialouge about life and love, and you have a pretty bad movie.

Considering Wong Kar Wai's other films (the great Chungking Express, As Tears Go By, etc.), this movie was a complete disappointment. One of the best things about Wai's other movies was the interaction between the characters and the budding romances that he manages to capture so well. This film offers nothing in that regard, and is way too muddled to allow the viewer to develop a sense of the characters and any of their relationships.

I have read that this film needs to be seen multiple times to get a complete understanding and appreciation for it, but until a better version (with easier to read subtitles and the ability to see the whole frame at once) is released on DVD, I don't recommend it unless you're a huge Wong Kar Wai fan.


Reviewer Score: 3

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 06/04/2005
Summary: Parts better than whole in film that penetrates the soul

Without a doubt, Ashes of Time is the most special film I have ever seen. It is also the most artistic, which naturally means it is more challenging than entertaining. Indeed, I was not comfortable watching it for the first time, but I was so mesmerized that now it has become the movie I have revisited the most. Nevertheless, Ashes is still a very difficult piece to sit through in its entirety. In my opinion, due to its disjointed storytelling, it is a film where parts work better than the whole, and those parts simply take my breath away.

Interestingly enough, the most breathtaking and spellbinding film to me is not one I so much "like" or enjoy, but is one that I cherish for its evocative artistry. This majestic collection of disjointed heartbreaking tales is complemented to perfection by unrivaled and unforgettable imagery, music, and performances that penetrate the soul.


Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: balstino
Date: 05/02/2003
Summary: Fantastic!

Don't expect intricate fights as they are shown in a very dynamic visual way which makes it hard to see what is going on. You do feel like you are in the middle of them though. The 3 stories and themes are a beautiful and grounded take on the sword genre. The music is incredible and the acting superb. Confusing at first, but on repeat viewings totally absorbing. A must own.

Reviewed by: jy96
Date: 02/21/2003
Summary: Pretentious!!!

A classic story in the hands of a talented director should have been a perfect match. It was a train wreck. A movie worthy of a low class art school. I hate to tell everyone but 'the king has no clothes on'.

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 01/25/2003

Wong Kar-wai personifies pretension with "Ashes of Time" a slow meditation on what it means to be a swordsman some where in the desert during the 19th Century. Wong assembles a powerhouse cast, recruits Sammo Hung to choreograph the action, and brings back Christopher Doyle from "Days of Being Wild" to photograph what is by all accounts a self-indulgent mess.

Reviewer Score: 1

Reviewed by: hoppsan
Date: 08/09/2002
Summary: An Masterpiece!!!

This is a very beutiful film by Wong Kar Wai, the fights are stylish and both the music and actors are great.

Dont miss this one!

Reviewed by: Stardust
Date: 07/10/2002
Summary: A Trick

First of all, who was tricked into watching this film because of the all-star cast? Second, how many of you started saying "what the heck?" after 5 min (10 min tops)?

I know I shouldn't be writing a review when I honestly did not finish the movie, but I couldn't resist because it sucked so much. I will also admit that I am one of those who do not understand Wong Kar Wai films.

Seriously, you'd think this movie, given the title, would be filled with martial arts, action, adventure, etc. Instead, you get lots of people's faces with their messy hair in the way, darkness and shadows, etc. I almost burst out laughing when someone told me (after 10 min) that the whole damn movie is gonna be this pathetic...yes, I was hoping that it would get better eventually, but no such luck. I simply had to give up after 20 min.

For those who actually liked and understood the movie, good for you. But for me, this is one form of art that I won't admire, and I'm sticking to this confession.

Rating: 0/10

Reviewer Score: 1

Reviewed by: degeneration
Date: 05/31/2002
Summary: Why do people like this...?

I really don't get what people like about Wong Kar Wai. I think he is just another director. He has made some good films, and he has made some utter crap films, just like most directors. In my opinion the only thing that sets him aside from the rest is that his directing is so terrible, people have regarded it as very art-y and therefore obviously very abstract and good.

I just think it is crap.

As for this film, before watching it I must admit I was salivating a little. All those big name stars, in what looked like it would be a cool swordplay period piece... God damn have I ever been so wrong. The stars come and go like they only appeared on set for a couple of hours. The action is some of the most disjointed, blurred and crap I have ever seen in any movie.

Then there is the plot... Bloody hell, it chops and changes characters at a rapid pace, going from one story to another with it seemingly not even finishing with any story before the change occurs. The pace is slow and boring, nothing in it actually is that interesting. I switched it off half way through because I was so bored, and only watched the rest just in case it got better... which it didn't.

The only positive thing I will say about this film, is it was quite good the way all the stories seemed to link up at the end. I can't say I noticed the music so I can't comment on it, but there is nothing else to this film which I can recommend.

From the other reviews, if you want to see a film which you are going to have to watch 5+ times before you will actually like it, then it appears that this may be one of those films. Personally I thought it was utter crap the first time round, and as such am not going to give it another 1 1/2 hours of my life at a time for it to grow on me. Avoid it, you'll be happier for it!

Reviewed by: bloody_romeo
Date: 05/25/2002

Well when i watched the movie i was expecting Superb martial art and Swordfight,..but evry fight-scene was so fast that one couldn´t tell whats happening,.and they were very short,...but i watched the film twice and then i realized that still the fighting scenes had their elegant style,...and i realized that it was not realy a martial art film,....the plot is just great, cinematography and photography r that great that they replace dialogues and the acting is superb, all in all it is more than just a film worth watching,..but dont watch the film and expect a martial art non-stop action movie...

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 04/14/2002
Summary: Why do so many people recommend Ashes Of Time?

Because the characters are the most fantastically poignant examples of loss and loneliness ever to touch the screen.

Because the visuals are breathtaking.

Because it steadfastly refuses to tell you a story.

Because the sets and the costumes are fantastic.

Because the performances from many of the biggest HK stars are so good, and so different.

Because the dialogue is poetic and moving.

Because it makes you think.

Because it gives you a real idea of the life of the swordsman in "jiang hu".

Because when you've seen it enough times to work out what's happening in the action scenes, they're pretty good :-)

It's no Swordsman II, or anything like most HK films, but it's a really beautiful and moving piece of cinema.

(This time in an attempt to refute complaints that it "makes no sense")

OK, I will concede that ASHES OF TIME does not make sense in the standard "narrative coherence" sense of the word. Time is played like a rugby scrum, characters relationships are expressed obliquely if at all, and their thoughts are conveyed less through their monologues than through the images that accompany them.

If you're looking for a movie to tell a simple story, it's not ASHES OF TIME... it is bloody and resolute in its determination to tell any story at all. Not because it can't, or there isn't a story there, but because that's not what the movie is about.

But I'm going to contend that ASHES OF TIME makes sense on a deeper level than that, somewhere at a primal level where words are snapped up by razor-teethed textures and sensations and... feelings.

My personal answer to the age old question "What is art?" has always been that art is a means of expression which communicates knowledge that cannot be absorbed through description/explanation. People can talk to you for hours about what sort of things happen when you feel loss, love, loneliness & regret... you'll know what the words mean but you won't really *feel* what it means. ASHES OF TIME shows you what all these things and more mean.

That to me is the point of ASHES OF TIME - an art movie in the truest sense. It enriches your knowledge in a way that a textbook can't. Also in a way that might have been difficult to accomplish with a straightforward linear narrative. I think WKW might have reasoned that if he presented his movie too simplistically, people would never scratch deeper to find the more important 'sense' it contains.

Did I convert anybody?

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: hybrid theory
Date: 02/27/2002
Summary: Art-house swashbuckler

This film is definately for the art-house crowd. It does however, include a cast of some of the biggest stars of Hong Kong cinema. Leslie Cheung plays a loner who lines up work for assassins-for-hire; Tony Leung is a young swordsman with a knack for making enemies; and Maggie Cheung potrays the woman in the hearts of both men who sets the story in motion with her "wine of forgetfulness". Exquisitely filmed, the film's narrative unfolds entirely out of sequence. Unfortunately, in my opinion the film is quite boring.

Rating 2 out of 5.

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 02/12/2002

One of the most talked about Hong Kong films of the past decade is ironically perhaps one of the most simple -- at least on the surface. Despite all of the adjectives thrown at this movie, it is at its' heart a wuxia (swordsplay) film about three tales of love, revenge and redemption. Let us not forget that all wuxia movies are based on these themes somewhat, it's just with the glut of similar movies during the early 1990's that the story was de-emphasized in favor of increasing wire-fu antics in order to entrance increasingly jaded local audiences.

The stories revolve around an isolated inn in the depths of the desert run by Ouyang Fang (played by Leslie Cheung), who came seeking solace after his love Maggie Cheung married his brother. Ouyang also runs a murder-for-hire business out of the inn, and the impetus for the stories comes from the missions he does (and does not) take. The first has male and female twins (both played by the impeccable Brigette Lin) hiring Ouyang for competing jobs. Yin, the male, wants Ouyang to kill his best friend (played by Tony Leung Ka-Fai) for jilting his twin sister Yang, who wants Ouyang to kill Yin for trying to make her marry Leung in the first place. Secondly, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai plays an assassin losing his sight, looking for one last job so he can return to his hometown. The last story features another assassin, this time Jacky Cheung. He stands at a crossroads at his life and must decide whether to go all they way and become a cold-blooded killer or accept his feelings for drifter Charlie Yueng.

Now, that is a pretty simple story, but Wong's techniques have created a movie that may be too confusing for some people. The movie depends heavily on flashbacks, which are one of my least favorite film devices. And while I will agree that the flashback-heavy structure makes the film perhaps a bit too dense, the flashbacks and playing with the timeline (much like Pulp Fiction) gives Ashes of Time an unexpected flavor that warrants repeated viewings. It is the exact reason why many people don't like this movie -- "it's too confusing" -- that gives it some weight compared to many of its anorexic counterparts. Even the mighty juggernaut of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (though it has a lovely story that depends on flashbacks itself) doesn't hold up as well to repeated viewings as this movie. Because Ashes of Time is one of those rare films where you take in something new each and every time you watch it.

The other sticking point for many of this movie's critics is Wong Kar-Wai's (via cinematographer Christopher Doyle) visual style. Sammo Hung took great pains to stage the fight scenes in a classical style, but Doyle's "stop-printing" technique renders the scenes near-incomprehensible. While I will agree that I may have like to see these grand fights staged in a typical fashion, the unusual style (once again, after repeated viewings) creates an aura around these scenes that will make them stick in your mind. The fleeting images -- swords going off the edge of the frame, twirling and blurring fighters, isolated spurts of blood -- provide an intense sense of close sword combat near unmatched by any film before or since. And Doyle's style outside of the action scenes provide some striking images as well. I don't think I've ever seen shots in a movie as beautiful as in Ashes of Time. In particular, two shots stick in my mind, one with Brigette Lin highlighted by a lantern inside the inn, and, most strikingly, near the end, where a relatively simple shot of Maggie Cheung contemplating the events that have gone on makes her look simply gorgeous, almost angelic. Again, it is in the way Wong carves his own niche with his particular visual style that Ashes of Time rises far above not only just other wuxia movies or other Hong Kong movies, but most films (regardless of where they were produced) in general.

Perhaps no other movie in the Hong Kong fanboy community inspires such varied opinions as this one. Just look at any of the discussions that pop up on Usenet or other websites' reviews. Most critics of this film point to the way Wong Kar-Wai disregards many of the "rules" of the wuxia genre and creates a film that is too complicated and stylish for its' own good. However, it is exactly the way Wong breaks these rules that make it one of the most unique takes on the genre and one of the most well-crafted films to come out of Hong Kong in the last ten years. If you aren't a fan of Wong Kar-Wai's work, there's really no reason for you to watch this movie. But if you haven't seen any of his films, this is an excellent place to start. It's also an excellent place to expand your Hong Kong film horizons to include something other than guys running around with dual guns and toilet jokes.

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 01/12/2002

I personally liked this very much, but it's only to a certain taste for people. If you like fantasy martial arts movies like Dragon Gate Inn, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon etc, then this is a must for you!

Good story, great cast, good fight scenes (thanks to Sammo Hung) and a breath taking soundtrack.

Rating (out of 5): 4

(This rating is based on the year & genre, so don't think it's based as a comparison on new releases etc.)

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: nomoretitanic
Date: 01/05/2002
Summary: French New Wave Meets Kung Fu, wee

Over and over again, the entire movie seems to be saying this: "Hey isn't it interesting that people in wuxia novels are talking like the dirty French?" And if you think it is interesting, enjoy the crap out of this movie, which is basically another ego trip by Wong to prove to the world that he is an autuer, with the courage to reimagine what the Chinese culture forbids him to. Again, the world does not care.

Tsui Hark made Blade allegedly right after watching this movie--check that one out, it definitely showed Wong KarWai up and definitely kicked this movie's ass. Wong KarWai fans, watch Blade and cry. You know that's what he did.

Reviewed by: Trigger
Date: 11/20/2001
Summary: Not for everyone

The Film - 6.5/10

It was very difficult to follow... It was a collection of stories that were very loosley tied together. It reminded me of Dragon Inn a little with different characters all ending up in one place, but it's very much different (except for Brigitte Lin's part). It's more of an artsy film (well Wong Kar Wai - what do you expect?) though and so if you're hoping for some conventional standards of HK cinema, you won't find many here. I did like the story for the most part - I will have to watch it a few more times perhaps so I can follow what characters are doing what and to whom. I was tired when I watched it so that might have something to do with it.

The DVD - 4/10

Mei Ah - burned in subs and 1.85:1 letterbox with the sides cut a little. The transfer is fairly clean for an earlier Mei Ah release though. No menu or extras or chapter stops.

The Action - 4/10

A few good dismemberments and some decent flashes of action, but all the action is handled the "artsy" way with choppy editing and ugly camera effects that just make the action really hard to follow - you almost have to wait until the motion sickness is over to see who won.

The Actors - 9.5/10

The acting was all superb though and it was a pleasure to watch all these fine A-list actors and actresses together on screen giving some of their best performances ever. I mean - we're talking Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Brigitte Lin, Jacky Cheung, Leung Ka Fai and Leslie Cheung. What more could you ask for?

Overall - 7/10

I think this film as a whole is better than if you dissect it. It works on a few levels and is different than most other HK films. If you're into Wong Kar Wai then you've probably seen it and if not then it should be on your list. If you're not really into artsy films and just like good action, then probably skip it.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Gwyn
Date: 07/31/2001
Summary: Beautiful film

It's a gorgeous film, with the ironic twist of using the action-filled world of the wuxia novel as the background for a movie that is, ultimately, about the consequences of inaction. Each character is locked into their own isolation by their inability to directly acknowledge/confront their feelings for others. The choppiness of the action sequences perfectly fits this atmosphere of restraint periodically broken by madness. As shots of exploding water and collapsing sand dunes get juxtaposed next to absolute stillness, I get the feeling that all the action, and the characters' emotions, have been sublimated to the background. I almost feel that the scenery should also get acting credit. This is definitely a movie where more is happening in the background than in the actual dialogue. Not that that means it's a boring film, but if you're looking for an action/kung fu flick, this is probably not your cup of tea. I was mesmerized by the beauty of the film, but some may be put off by the apparent lack of action.

Reviewed by: RLM
Date: 07/08/2001
Summary: What The Hell?!?!

Jesus Christ! This film sucks. I have seen it 3 times and still can't understand who is who, where is where, and what is what. There is art and there is crap and this is crap. Don't waste your time. I would try to describe what I saw, but whats the point. 0/10

Well, I watched it again and it still sucks.

Reviewed by: Buckeyez
Date: 07/03/2001
Summary: Bad film...period! Believe it

I didn't want to believe it until I have seen the film myself. And as a lover of movies and I've watched tons of them (I currently have about 284 plus DVDs of my favorite films in my movies library), recently I finally got the chance to watch the much talked about film, Ashes of Time by Wong Kar-Wai. I wanted so much to like it and since I had read several reviews by people that considered it one of the top HK films and all I have to say is "are they nuts??". This film is really bad and the direction is the worst I've seen. Let me give an example by what I mean. In figure skating, the artistic skaters usually have elegance and smooth lines. A movie like Ashes of Time should be like that, or like a beautiful painting. Since its telling the story of warriors each with a unique story, and this should blend in the action in which the vision should be one that is beautiful and elegant. Instead, the movie is choppy and short on anything clever and doesn't carry through any scenes or emotions. I have never read the book, but I'm sure the original author/writer did not intended his movie to be interpreted in such a fashion. Wong lacked any brillance when he directed this film and the story was interpreted in such a belligerent manner. There is always unnecessary violence and killings. The viewer has no incline on why they do what they do, and there is absolutely no emotions when the characters kill or hurt. Even the worst action or horror films with little dialogue makes better movies. The drama is bad, the action sucks, the cinematography is good but not accentuated. The saving grace for this film is the all-star cast. I'm still hoping that someone would remake this movie the way it was intended by the author. One of the greatest martial arts fantasy to date would be "Dragon Inn" (1992). Perhaps Ang Lee, or John Woo would kick some booty if they ever got their hands remaking this classic story.

Reviewed by: grimes
Date: 06/29/2001

SPOILER WARNING: This review reveals most of the interesting plot details so don't read it if you want to be surprised.

If the French were to begin making swordplay films, they might look something like Ashes of Time. Ashes of Time is an action film about inaction, memory, and wrong choices.

This is Wong Kar-Wai's most confusing, inaccessible film, but it also one of his most rewarding. The story takes characters from The Eagle-Shooting Heroes, a well known action novel by Jing Yong. Ashes of Time is in fact a prequel to the novel, building histories for the novel's main characters.

Any attempt to summarize the plot is doomed to failure, but I will attempt to do so nonethless. Leslie Cheung is at the center of the story as Ouyang Feng (Malicious West) and much of the story is revealed as narrative in his voice. He is a man who finds 'solutions' for people's problems (primarily assassinations) who lives in the western desert. Once a year, he is visited by Huang Yaoshi, also known as Evil East (Tony Leung Kar-Fai). At the beginning of the film, he comes on his yearly visit bringing a pot of magical wine that supposedly erases memory. Huang partakes of it while Ouyang Feng refuses. Soon after, we see Huang meet The Sunset Warrior (Leung Chiu-Wai) in a bar. The Sunset Warrior reveals that he had sworn to kill Huang Yaoshi the next time they met, though he does not. The reason for both his swearing of the oath is revealed later in the film, though it is hinted at in this scene.

We also see Huang Yaoshi with Murong Yin and Murong Yang (both played by Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia), a brother and sister (really the same person). Huang makes a promises to Yang saying that if Yang has a sister, he will marry her. However, he breaks this promise. Yin is convinced that Yang did this and so hires Ouyang Feng to kill her brother, who also hires Ouyang Feng, except to kill Huang Yaoshi. Confused yet?

Carina Lau plays the woman that both Huang Yaoshi and the Sunset Warrior love, though for reasons revealed later in the film, neither of them is with her. The Sunset Warrior (so named because he is slowly going blind) is in need of money so that he can return to his village to see the peach blossoms (actually the woman he loves is named Peach Blossom) one more time, so Ouyang Feng hires him to kill a band of horse thieves plaguing a nearby village. When he fails, Ouyang Feng recruits the shoeless swordsman Hong Qi (Jacky Cheung) to complete the task. Honq Qi also agrees to kill a band of militamen who killed peasant girl Charlie Yeung's brother, though she cannot pay him with more than a basket of eggs and a mule.

Finally, there is Maggie Cheung (no name given in the film), the woman who used to be Ouyang Feng's lover, but married his older brother to punish him because he continually left her for his martial adventures. Every year, she is visited by Huang Yaoshi, who brings her news of Ouyang Feng, though she makes him promise never to tell Feng of this. These scenes with Maggie Cheung occur before the scenes at the beginning of the film. There are several flashbacks within the film, confusing its chronology, which is part of why the plot is so difficult to follow.

This film is heart-breaking. Almost every character has consistently made wrong choices and they realize this. They are the victim of their passions and their pride. The lone exception is Hong Qi, who does what is right without worrying about the future or what others may think. As a result, he is rewarded and he and his wife are able to be happy together.

This film has an all-star cast performing at their absolute best. Particularly notable is Maggie Cheung, who steals the few scenes she is in. Tony Leung Kar-Fai gives one of the greatest performances of his career as well.

The film's look is different than many of Wong Kar-Wai's other films, featuring many close-ups of the various characters and some shots that would be appropriate in any swordplay film such as characters destroying cliffsides with their swords. The action scenes are filmed in a fairly bizarre combination of grainy footage and slow motion, and action junkies will be disappointed. The sets are sparse, reflecting the fact that what is going on inside the character's heads is far more important than where they are. The desert location is used to great effect, its barrenness obviously intended to reflect the lives of each character, particularly Ouyang Feng.

Ashes of Time is a film that is rewarding on successive viewings. Having seen it four times now I realized just how much I missed when I first watched it (for example, the fact that Brigitte Lin's characters are named Yin and Yang. Wow, do I feel clueless!). This also appears to be Wong Kar-Wai's most hated film. It is likely to engender strong emotions in any viewer, with its script that deals as much with concepts as with characters and the dense plotting of their relationships with one another. Its power, however, is undeniable.

Reviewed by: Paul Fox
Date: 06/01/2001
Summary: Ashes of Time, a prequel gone astray.

Ashes of Time has been described by many as one of the worst films in Wong Kar-Wai's filmography.  Indeed, upon first viewing this film it comes across as confusing, and muddled with no real direction.  But actually it is not the case with this film.  Rather it is what one might call an 'IN' film.  That is you have to be 'IN' on the history of how this film came about to truly appreciate or, at the very least, understand it.
First, Ashes of Time is based upon a legendary martial arts novels often called Eagle Shooting Heroes and Return of the Condor Heroes.  While this film serves as a prequel (ala The Phantom Menace) to those stories, it makes short references to them in short subtitled narratives.  These stories are considered classics by many Chinese people and so they know the stories and characters quite intimately.  For the western viewer to fully understand and appreciate the characters in the story, it is highly recommended that you read or watch the original  series before trying to tackle Ashes of Time.  For those non-Chinese speaking viewers recommendations would include the 18 volume comic series by Asiapac books "Return of the Condor Heroes".  For those with some proficiency in spoken mandarin or Cantonese you might want to try watching "Return of the Condor Heroes" television series by TVB, starring Andy Lau Tak-Wah.  The entire series is available on VCD in 2 boxed sets. As a last resort you might even try and watch "The Eagle Shooting Heroes" (1993). While this is a crazy parody of the original story, it stars virtualy all of the actors that appear Ashes (save for Charlie Yeung) and was even produced by Wong Kar-Wai.

Storyline and characters aside, the next major obstacle in understanding this film lies in its production.  At times it represents the traditional swordplay style epic produced by Hong Kong movie houses.  This is due in part to the martial arts direction by Sammo Hung.  However the cinematography during most of the fight sequences is erratic and choppy, a style very typical of Wong's films.  Adding to the confusion is Wong's method of weaving he storyline back and forth, shifting stories, times, places and people.  While it is really not that difficult to follow, anyone who does not understand who these characters are will certainly lose interest very quickly amid this cinematographic chaos.

The characters and story of Eagle/Condor Heroes belong to what some might call high fantasy martial arts.  Having Wong Kar-Wai direct a story about these characters is similar to allowing the late Stanley Kubrick to direct "The Phantom Menace".  It makes for a strange combination of elements with characters that are already established.  

Overall review rating  2.5

Review by Paul Fox
June 2001

Reviewed by: x40001
Date: 04/04/2001
Summary: Wong Kar Wai Is A Demi-God

As far as im concerned ashes of time is a breath of fresh air from the horrible stagnant action movie trash that Hong Kong and America has been churning out for the past ten years.

Why do so many people claim that the plot is a mess? If people watching this movie were not waiting for 'You Killed my master/father/friend/Canary lets Fight!!!' plot by numbers theme then maybe they'd appreciate it more. A movie that makes you think (oh my GOD! not think!).

Actually I would say that people who have dismissed it as an indeciphable piece of arthouse crap know more about locating thier assholes in the dark than about movies.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 03/12/2001
Summary: Great !

Having spent years recovering from the shock of WKW's dreadful ChungKing Express, I approached AOT with some trepidation. But it has such wonderful music and gorgeous photography, I was assured. The story is a bit of a jumble, but stick with it, I was told.

Well, they were right. Much as it grates to admit it, these people who adore ChungKing Express and Ashes Of Time are right, and have not totally lost their minds. At least, not when it comes to AOT.

AOT is one of the most visually entrancing HK films I've seen. I am ready to agree that Chris Doyle is capable of spectacular work. The many images with reflected water are particularly striking. And the music is divine, and I'd rank it almost up with James Wong's heart-melting score for the wonderful Chinese Ghost Story series.

The story is scattered, very much like the Ashes of the title, but I didn't find it all that hard to follow. Granted, you need to be in a certain meditative mood to watch it.

In short, AOT is everything which ChungKing Express is not.

I believe that any person who has watched both CE and AOT, and detests them both, could fairly claim membership of the not-inconsiderable "Wong Kar Wai is a wanker" club.

But not me. AOT alone (I am yet to see other films, such as As Tears Go By) would keep me out of this group.

This is certainly not a film for everyone. (Why can't WKW's ardent fans ever state this simple fact in their rapturous reviews ?!). But the music alone would have been enough to get me in, and the lovely images to hold my attention.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: future113
Date: 02/19/2001
Summary: Terrible!

Stay far away from this movie! it is as exciting as watching the windows 98 load up screen. There is no plot and those who are pesistant enough will watch this movie over 20 times and come up with their own. You're probably thinking this movie can't be that bad right? well guess again, jack. It is.
Ashes of Time is approriate title for this movie though, since you'll be burning a lot of wasted time with this movie. Oh Grrrr.!! #$@$#!
Fee Foo Fum!! Hmmsss. Abbttt
Don't tell me I didn't warn you.

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 02/19/2001
Summary: You either like it or hate it!!

I have only seen this movie once and was left..........confused!!
The action scenes aren't so great and the story seems to jump here and there!!

So do i like it or hate it? Ummm really not sure but more towards i am confused so i'll give this a


Reviewed by: toto63
Date: 07/17/2000
Summary: Sergio Leone?

This stroy about the desert of soul remind me at the silence of some Leone' s movies, but this is very better.
So dreaming and in the same time lucid.

Reviewed by: Sunrah
Date: 04/05/2000

Absolutely the most boring film I've ever seen. To be fair, the film looks great. The plot, huh? What's going on? Who are all these people? Where's the action? When the action get here... What did he just do? Then its over. But, the movie drags on and on and on....

Reviewed by: spinali
Date: 04/02/2000

The hottest names HK films futilely act away in this meditative swashbuckler cum spaghetti eastern. Fans of Grain-O-Vision jerk-motion photography and student film stylistic pranks will like this, a cyclical story of swordsmen Cheung and Leung obtaining vengeance for the women in their lives. You can see Maggie's eyes move back and forth as she reads her final soliloquy from cue cards. Pretty awful.


[Reviewed by Steve Spinali]

Reviewer Score: 3

Reviewed by: SUPERCOP
Date: 12/27/1999
Summary: An aquired taste.....

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, this convulated epic contains 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 bring their individual characters to life delivering fantastic performances, while Christopher Doyle's extravagant cinematography illuminates the exotic locales in which the movie was filmed. A must see, although it surely will not cater to all tastes.

Rating: 8.75/10

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/21/1999

Wrong Kar Wai's swords epic, is extremely well made and played... Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Jacky Cheung and Briggite Linn have never been better. Full of beautiful cinematography and super cool swords-action scenes.


[Reviewed by Andrej Blazeka]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

A film that captures the timeless style of great mo-hup novelist Jing Yong. Based on the "East, South, West, North" characters from Jing's Condor saga. A multiple winner at the 1994 HK Film Awards. Fantastic scenery and beautiful music. Unforgettable!


[Reviewed by Brian Lam]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

What this film really means, I'm afraid, is that Ingmar Bergman has finally cracked the last culture that seemed immune to his "interior of the mind" euro-brechtian influence. This is a pretentious Euro art movie about "LOSS," that catch-all of the continental film sensibility and indeed, high bourgeois culture of all kinds. It is exquisitely filmed and evocative but it is ultimately about self conscious camera placement and people gazing out windows while rubbing significant objects against their cheeks. That the objects happen to be ancient Chinese broadswords, helps, but does not disguise the lack of emotional impact that defines this style of filmmaking. Blech!

[Reviewed by Cynthia Rhae Woodard Perry]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Granted, this movie has its strong points. The cast is great and some of the photography is stunning. But where oh where is this movie going? Endless narration, overused and trite metaphors (I wonder what that turning cage means?? Oh, TRAPPED!), and casting that makes the movie almost a parody of the genre; using Brigette Lin yet again as a cross-dresser (shades of _Swordsman_), the Ronnie-Vision fights (as in Ronnie Yu of _Bride With White Hair_), what does it all add up to? In my opinion, not much. These characters are supposed to be in pain, and yet left me completely indifferent. Heavy-handed, overwrought and just plain boring.


[Reviewed by Dan Liatowitsch]