Sunday, March 18, 2012

3 Short Paragraphs: Ashes of Time Redux

2009, Kar Wai Wong

At the risk of sounding racist, the biggest problem I had with the film was my inability to tell the characters apart early on.  The fact of the matter is, in period pieces like this (and I don't just mean Asian period films, I have the same problem with British period dramas too), people dress in a similar fashion and have unfamiliar faces and names, the nuances of which my eyes and ears aren't acutely attuned to at first, so there is a period of the running time where I'm focused more on trying to figure out who they're referring to in a scene then what the actual scene is about or the meaning of their words.  With Ashes of Time Redux, it was almost fatal, as I was about ready to give up on the film, until suddenly it started to click around a half hour in once the third story started, and I began to discern who was Ou-yang and who was Huang and how a seemingly disconnected opening scene may actual related to the story at hand.

The film is sprawling, and yet very intimate.  It's an interconnected series of stories centered around Ou-yang Feng, a mercenary swordsman who also acts as intermediary, a contractor for the desperate on both the buying and selling side of vigilante justice.  I won't go into the nuance of each of the tales as much of the film's pleasure is the slow reveal of the connective threads (as well it's difficult to clearly recall the details accurately a month after viewing), but it the film's rewards only increase as it progresses.

At the end of the film (and one of the delights of watching it on Netflix) I immediately went back to the beginning of the picture to get a clearer understanding of how the opening non-sequitur fit in, and then jumped quickly to key points in the film to get greater clarity and understanding of all the connections.  This is a film worth watching numerous times, and not just for it's intriguing narrative structure.  As is typical from a Kar-Wai film, it's a beautiful film, though no where near as lavish or clean as, say, In The Mood For Love, but then it's a film reconstructed from his longer 1994 version.  Here Kar-Wai is more interested in mood and emotion instead of action and direct storytelling despite adapting the character from the Condor Heroes wuxia trilogy, and he builds every scene around feeling, relying on characters emoting, more than any actions or words.  There's not necessarily a central theme -- loyalty, love and honor all play a role -- but there's definitely a consistency to the tone of the picture, making it unmistakably a Kar-Wai film.