Thursday, May 28, 2009

Finally -- Ashes of Time Redux!

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!


Glenn, kenixfan said...

Awesome! I was a tiny bit afraid that you might be a purist and not like seeing a different version of such a beloved film. I am happy that you finally got to see it and that you enjoyed it too! (and lucky that I get to be the first comment-poster on this post!)

Kathie Smith said...

Yay! So glad you finally got to see it! (Makes me want to watch it again!) I can do nothing but agree with all of your comments. When I went back to watch the original on DVD, the differences seem soooooo inconsequential to how much better the film looks. The two bookend action scenes are so incredibly dark and damaged on the DVD, I suspect they were taken out because they had dissolved to dust. Personally, I think the set up is much better with those explosive action sequences and the ending a little more poetic. But I am being nit-picky.

I've been meaning to watch Redux again on DVD.

sarah bailey knight said...


Finally!!! The movie comes to Hong Kong!!! Glad you enjoyed it. It is great to see a movie when you can really see it, isn't it. I too liked that last shot of Leslie (of course I had tears in my eyes). Having two versions of a movie I really really like makes me happy and lucky.

Anonymous said...

I just came across this article over at the new HK Top Ten blog about Brigitte and Leslie's kiss scene, which didn't make it into the film.

Although I've seen Redux version, I'm withholding final judgment until I can watch it again on DVD. I've seen the original close to 20 times, so when I saw the Redux in the theater I was overly conscious of the changes.

I liked the new edits. And it was great of course to see the film in pristine condition, but I didn't really care for the over saturation of the colors in some scenes.

The biggest change for me was the new soundtrack. I dearly loved the original music and its unabashed melodrama. It really carried a lot of the emotion of the film. So, even though I was happy that they kept parts of the original score, I didn't care for the more respectable new arrangements with Yo-Yo Ma.

But like I said, I want to see the film again on its own terms with fresh eyes.

What hasn't changed is the incredible performances that WKW was able to coax out of all the actors.

Ashes of Time remains one of my favorite all-time movies.

Kathie Smith said...

duriandave, I'm with you on the soundtrack: one of my biggest complaints. I love the audaciousness of the crazy synth original. I'm sorry, but the one is just watered down...

sarah bailey knight said...

duriandave and Kathie Smith,

I agree with both your comments about the new soundtrack. I too have watched Ashes of Time many many times and while watching Redux found myself noting/pausing at the beginning of several scenes when the expected synth music wasn't there.

I liked the saturation of yellow and brown colors in Redux. Though I do realize the colors were 'too much' my personal preference for intense use of color overrode my critical judgment.

I'm an 'over the top' Leslie fan but still prefer the original movie poster. I prefer blue to tan/brown and like seeing the ensemble cast together.

Has anyone read comments from the cast about Redux?

YTSL said...

Hi Glenn --

Congrats on being the first comment-poster for this blog entry! And yes, well, reading and hearing not so positive reactions to the film had made me worried that I'd not like the film. In retrospect, however, it probably helped that I went in to the screening with lowered expectations.

Hi Kathie (first time around) --

Good point re the two bookend action scenes -- even if it's so sad if that ere the case re their having dissolvd to dust.

Hi sbk --

Funnily, I didn't tear up even once while watching the movie. OTOH, there were times when I thought I was going to hyperventilate and die while watching it!!! ;D

Hi duriandave --

I'm glad the kiss didn't make it into the film. As it stands, that scene is so full of unrequited longing that it threatens to break my heart... albeit in a good way!

Thinking about it, I agree with you re the soundtrack -- i.e., I don't plan to get a CD of the Redux OST but love my original Ashes OST CD so very much. But have a different opinion to you re the visuals: all in all, I thought the outdoor colors were grand... even while my favorite scenes visually do play out indoors.

As for the actors: what a cast! Am not sure if it will ever get better than that in Hong Kong cinema.

Hi Kathie (the 2nd time around) --

Like I wrote in my post: it just seems like there was less music in the film as a whole. And, if truth be told, I wanted more, not less!

Hi again sbk --

I think sbk and I truly are in agreement with regards to the soundtrack and also the colors!

Re cast comments: have only read/heard Brigitte's from her New York appeareance. But have to imagine that Carina and Maggie will be happier this time around with the film and their parts in it! :)

Anonymous said...

Kathie, sbk, and YTSL --

I'm glad to see so many fans of the original music! Correct me if I'm wrong, but one part of the original score that was cut out and that I really missed was the male chorus, which used intermittently throughout the film.

douglas said...

Hi, Yvoone.

we have long long time no see, can we have a drink later on??

and i watch ASHES OF TIME REDUX, but.......i like old ver more and more.


YTSL said...

Hi once more duriandave -

Count me in as one other person who missed that part of the original music. Though I never was all that sure if it was human voice or a somehow electronically generated simulation of such!

Hi Douglas --

Long time no see indeed! Text messaged you after I got my new job -- did you get it? Even then, it was a long time ago! And sure re meeting up again some time for a drink. SMS me, okay? :)

As for your take on old vs new Ashes of Time: I wonder -- have you seen the old one lately? Because I have the feeling that it might be a pain to view it after seeing the clear as well as bright visuals of the new version.

Stefan S said...

sigh, i'm still waiting for this to make its big screen debut here, if it does at all!

YTSL said...

Hi Stefan --

Wow, had thought that Hong Kong was the last territory to get a theatrical run for "Ashes of Time Redux" but a friend of mine told me that it's yet to be screened in Malaysia (and surely it never will be screened uncut). Now you tell me Singapore too! :O

Willow said...

I must confess I have no memory of the original. Chorus? Crazy synth? I picked up a copy of Redux (not at Walmart). Thoroughly enjoyed it - the instrumental music, the performances, Leslie - the whole she-bang.

YTSL said...

Hi Willow --

Wow re your having no memory of the original -- since it sure left a major impact on my memory! But am glad that you liked Redux -- which I'm hoping to catch on a big screen at least once more before it leaves theaters here in Hong Kong.

Stefan S said...

well, one of the art house cinemas here had the trailer running (and still running) for the longest time. Once it had a March release date tagged, but now it's just "coming soon".

Having the R1 DVD already in the stores means I may have no choice but to opt for that option!

YTSL said...

Hi again Stefan --

Is it the same trailer as over here?

Have to say the English narration at the beginning threatens to drive me nuts... but the trailer does get better as it goes along!

And nooooooooo -- do try to resist the urge and save your first watch for a big screen!!!!! I managed to -- miraculously!!!