October 8, 2008

NYFF. Ashes of Time Redux.

Ashes of Time Redux Following its premiere in Cannes and two screenings at the New York Film Festival, Ashes of Time Redux sees a release on Friday in New York and Los Angeles.

Wong Kar-wai "has followed up his Blueberry mess by returning to one of his first films, 1994's spottily available Ashes of Time, which has, since its initial release, floated around in various versions," explains Chris Wisniewski in Reverse Shot, and the result is "an unqualified triumph, the kind of cinematic experience that will remind audiences why they fell in love with Wong in the first place, whether they're rediscovering the film or seeing it for the first time."

Updated through 10/11.

"Just as Fallen Angels is hardly a crime caper, In the Mood for Love is never quite able to blossom into the romance we expect and hope for, and 2046 only elegantly limns the edges of the science-fiction it intimates, Ashes of Time promises a wuxia saga that never quite arrives," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "It's quite remarkable how popular Wong Kar-wai has been for so long with audiences, considering that he's such a master of distraction - and of course abstraction.... This is an experience for the big screen, especially for its thunderously remastered soundtrack, which is graced by a booming new score by Wu Tong, and its eye-blisteringly gorgeous orange and maroon tones, which make its western desert locations look as foreboding as some distant planet."

"Structured over five seasons taken from the Chinese almanac, Redux's touchstone is Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung), an assassin-for-hire who runs a drifter hotel in East Buddha Nowhere," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice. "Wong has a bit of a wink with all of the deadpan death threats and grand allusions - women rake their cheeks along tree bark, limestone, and a horse's neck in fits of longing - before turning mannerism into the very stuff of transcendence, as with Maggie Cheung's penultimate lament. It's a knowing end-run around cliché that seeks to assert the damnable truth of cliché itself."

Fernando F Croce in Slant: "No less than the romantics of his later films, Wong's ancient warriors are obsessed with time and passion; icons out of old Shaw Brothers movies, they find the rigidity of their archetypal roles gradually eroded by the transience of their emotions. Radically (almost maddeningly) disjointed but never less than intoxicating, Wong's most obscure film is a trance worth falling into."

"[I]t's fascinating to me," writes the L Magazine's Mark Asch, "how Ashes of Time - which Wong struggled to piece together during a long-even-for-him postproduction - seems to come together like a movie you're remembering, rather than a movie you're watching - here as always, Wong doesn't expend much screentime building up the story, preferring to drop the necessary information in voice-overs playing over abstracted visuals, and making character interaction a matter of mood rather than story arc-related transaction. In other words, everything you see in Ashes of Time could be your memory of a single marginal shot in a movie adhering to some perfect narrative ideal."

"Why Ashes?" asks Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "Practical reasons, for one (the negative needed rescuing), but also because, perversely, Wong's films being ostensible paeans to vanishing time and memory, missed opportunities might be redeemable by way of revisitation. Unfortunately, even in retrospect Ashes isn't much different in quality from Wong's canon, among the most overrated in world cinema today."

"In a year in which Max Ophüls' 1995 Lola Montès is being revived for the third time at the New York Film Festival, and rereleased at Film Forum, Wong Kar-wai suddenly strikes me the Asian Max Ophüls, and I can think of no higher praise." Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

Alex Simon talks with Wong. Via Movie City News.

Susan King talks with him, too - for the Los Angeles Times. More from Brent Simon at Vulture.

And for the New York Times, Scarlet Cheng talks with all sorts of people who were involved in the film's making.

Online viewing tip. IFC has video of the press conference.

Update: Online viewing tip. Kevin Lee has video from the press conference.

Update, 10/9: Armond White in the New York Press: "When I interviewed director Wong Kar Wai and cinematographer Christopher Doyle at the Apple Store's event, 'Music in the Films of Wong Kar Wai,' in Soho, it was Doyle who gave the best justification for this week's release of re-mastered and re-scored Ashes of Time Redux. 'I don't think of it as a remaster,' Doyle declared. 'I think of it as a re-invigoration!'"

Updates, 10/10: "I never really understood what was going on in Ashes of Time when I initially saw it years ago, and it took two looks at the redo for me to parse the narrative, such as it is. (See, there's this swordsman....)" Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "But transparent, forward-thrusting narrative has never been Mr Wong's thing; time is his thing, as are camera moves, moody lighting, shimmering color, beautiful faces and the lingering, lonely ache of romance.... With its parallel romances, cool modern surfaces and intoxicating desires, Chungking Express was easier on the eyes (and brain) than the elliptical, drifty Ashes of Time, with its Buddhist adages, flowing robes and dunes, and confusion of falling and flying bodies. But time - that word again - suggests that Ashes was far more important to Mr Wong's evolution, because it is the film during which he shook off genre and abandoned the banalities of mainstream narrative for visual abstraction, beauty, art."

"[D]espite the smeary violent interludes, Ashes of Time remains less an example of early Asia Extreme than one of Asia Extremely Confusing," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "But Wong's strength has always been his use of screen sensuality, and this colorful revision ups the expressionism to dizzying heights."

"The film's official site has a press kit with detailed plot synopses," notes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "Consider downloading it and brushing up in advance, as you would for an opera."

Andy Klein talks with Wong for the LA CityBeat.

Peter Knegt profiles Wong and Doyle for indieWIRE.

"The movie will always be a little baffling and too intensely personal to be fully satisfying to a mass audience, but Ashes of Time Redux makes it clearer than ever that it's an amazing achievement and an important step in the development of a major filmmaker," writes Phil Nugent at Screengrab.

"[A]s a martial arts film, Ashes of Time Redux kind of sucks," notes Alison Willmore. "That's fine. It's better to look at Ashes of Time Redux as a typical Wong Kar-wai film that just happens to be set in a mythical, martial arts-dominated landscape, an episodic reverie in which the beautifully heartbroken once again muse to themselves in meandering voiceovers and scrutinize the situations in which they find themselves for meaning or consolation, and it's all so lusciously lovely and cinematic you take it in with jaw agape."

Online listening tip. Wong and Doyle are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

"Seeing it on the big screen in a wondrously restored print, ten minutes shorter than the original, the film is much more comprehensible and its visual beauty can now be fully appreciated, but I still see it a one of Wong's lesser films, another half-baked recapitulation of his quintessential themes of unrequited love and the inability to cope with nostalgia, this time in the genre of epic Asian period action, which he doesn't seem especially interested in anyway," writes Brandon Harris.

Update, 10/11: "If Wong Kar-wai's Ashes of Time Redux (2008) is not the most beautiful movie ever made, then at least its beauty is sufficient to obliterate, for the moment, the memory of all others, including Wong's own ravishing In the Mood for Love (2000) and 2046 (2004)," writes Amy Taubin for Artforum. "Beauty and its memory, along with regret for lost love, are Wong's subjects, and Redux, notwithstanding its martial-arts derivation, is the distillation of his swooning romances. It is also the materialization of his ongoing Proustian project - to revivify the past in all its sensory richness and capture the one that got away. In this case, the elusive object of desire is not a woman or a man but a movie in its entirety."

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Posted by dwhudson at October 8, 2008 2:11 AM