In honor of the fact that for a desert epic,
Ashes of Time Redux (and the original Ashes of Time)
sure has a lot of shots of water in them!
At last -- a film that I've waited for over a year to check out -- one that is but a revised version of a film made in 1994 and that I've seen multiple times already -- has finally opened in theaters in Hong Kong!
Though, I should point out, not that many theaters. Most notably, the cinemas with three of the biggest screens in Hong Kong (Golden Harvest's Grand Ocean in Tsim Sha Tsui, MCL's JP in Causeway Bay and the BEA Imax in Kowloon Bay) aren't showing the movie. Also, despite my thinking it would be, an on-line check of today's screenings showed that they aren't packed at all... which is why I decided I could hazard going all the way to Broadway Cinematheque in Yau Ma Tei -- probably the multiplex in Hong Kong that would attract the most respectful and appreciative audience for the film -- after work this evening to watch the Wong Kar Wai desert epic.
Do I like Ashes of Time Redux? I think it suffices to say at this point that I literally felt my hair stand on end and shivers going down my spine at the end of the screening (and I hope that I won't spoil it for anyone when I disclose that I think it a wonderful tribute to Leslie Cheung that the last shot that one sees before the end credits start to roll is a close-up of his face). And, upon coming out of the theater, was tempted to run up to the ticketing counter and buy a ticket for the immediate next screening of the movie!
Somehow, sanity prevailed. Or, rather, I was lured back to my apartment by the promise of being able to watch the original Ashes of Time on DVD for comparative purposes -- only to find, alas, that my DVD has "died"!
So until I get a new Ashes of Time DVD, I'm going to have to rely on my memory of the film in recalling it. Which means that the following comments about Ashes of Time Redux versus and vis a vis the original Ashes of Time may be off base. If so, I hope that this entry's readers will let me know about this, albeit gently! And if you agree with -- or have further thoughts upon reading -- them, I'd appreciate your letting me know that too!
Among the most noticeable changes from original film to redux version are those involving the beginning and ending scenes. Re the former: the original lines appear to be missing, as are -- as David Bordwell has noted -- the more explosive parts of the sword battle between Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung) and Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung Kar-Fai).
As for the latter: the whole entire final montage, including the short shots that have Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia atop a bed of red chili peppers as well as making like a martial Mary Poppins in the rain, is missing. And I'd be lying if I were to say that I don't miss seeing them. And yet, the new ending, like I related above, has a strong emotional punch for me...
Another section of the work whose new version I have mixed (bitter-sweet?) feelings about is the scene in which Murong Yin (Brigitte Lin) caresses Ouyang Feng while pretending/imagining that he's actually Huang Yaoshi (and Ouyang Feng indulges in his own imagining/fantasy that the woman caressing him is actually his brother's wife (Maggie Cheung Man Yuk)). For while the original version came complete with a moody, mesmerizing music track, this scene plays out sans music entirely in Redux -- so what you hear is the onscreen characters' breathing... and your own intakes of breath watching what still is a visually breath-taking -- and, for me at least, emotionally devastating -- minute or so of film.
All in all, it is very noticeable that not only is the music often softer and more subtle (and more classical in tone -- the synthesized sounds are gone) but there actually seems to be less of it overall. Actually, less "noise" in general -- as an example, Brigitte Lin screams just once in Redux versus, if I remember correctly, on three different occasions in the original movie.
In contrast, the outdoor desert scenes and establishing landscape shots have had their color tones turned up so unnaturally high that I got to thinking from viewing those visuals that Wong Kar Wai is a latter day Fauve. (And while I can understand those who have been unhappy with this move, I actually am not that upset by it. In honesty, I think I'm just too happy overall to finally see a clear version of the work -- one which I have seen on 35mm film as well as DVD, VHS tape and VCD!)
Story-wise, things have not been as simplified as I had worried would be the case. Those familiar with the original Ashes of Time might think some of the visual clues as to who loves whom and such aren't that necessary. At the same time, I don't think their addition is that jarring -- and, actually, it does seem rather nice that as a consequence of this impulse, Carina Lau, Maggie Cheung and the actress who plays Hong Qi (Jacky Cheung)'s wife now look to have more time on screen than in the original film.
In conclusion: In the almost immediate aftermath of viewing the film, my feeling is that Redux is a work that I could see myself growing to love as well as the original Ashes of Time. And if nothing else, I must say that I love the experience of watching Brigitte on a big screen in a wonderful movie, parts of which do feel novelly new as opposed to wonderfully familiar.
Also, if hearing Ms. Lin speaking Mandarin while the other stars do so in Cantonese can be a bit disconcerting, what really struck me more was how she really did act so very expressively with her voice as well as the rest of her. Put another way: what a tragedy it was that this goddess of an actress worked in Taiwanese and Hong Kong cinema in eras when, for the most part, the preference was to dub rather than film in synch-sound... for based on what I heard and saw courtesy of Redux, I really would have loved to have heard as well as seen so much more of her than has been the case!