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03.11.09

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Phaedra

Ashes of Time Redux

One disc; Sony Pictures; $28.96

By Richard von Busack


(R; 93 min.) The recut and restored version of Wong Kar-Wai's 1994 Hong Kong martial-arts film, with computer-toasted cinematography by Christopher Doyle, is beautiful yet almost completely incoherent. This bewildering film glows with saturated blues and peach-colored deserts, and the emphasis is on fateful yearning and betrayal, not swordsmanship. Leslie Cheung anchors the multistrand narrative as a swordsman avenger for hire. Both Tony Leungs (Ka Fi and Chiu Wi) play the Lord of the West and a Blind Swordsman; Brigitte Lin is both halves of a pair of royal siblings. Maggie Cheung plays the Girl; i.e., an impossibly beautiful woman staring off into space. Tight close-ups of hair-covered faces are sometimes all you have to go by to figure out who is who. The film boasts hyperartistic effects, like the shadow cast on a woman's face by spinning bamboo bird cages. It also displays instances of ardent poetry: the film is held together by a jug of wine that has the power of the river Lethe. Clearly, Kar-Wai's heart belongs to Maggie and not to the confusing fight scenes. Based on Louis Cha's four-volume novel The Eagle-Shooting Heroes, in this rejiggered form, Ashes of Time Redux is apparently not for made people who didn't read the book. An interesting remaking-of documentary explains how a deteriorating master print led to the project. The director and cinematographer Doyle recall some of the arduous aspects of the shoot.


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