Ashes Of Time Redux Review

The Film

After enjoying Wong Kar Wai's Ashes of Time Redux, I have tried to collect my thoughts and compose a summary of them for you. When I looked at my notes, I found myself banging on about re-discovering a lost film, I found myself lost in the technical collaboration of Christopher Doyle, the director and William Chang, and then I read Noel's review on this site and decided he'd said nearly all that I wanted to.
To get somewhere before a fellow traveller is always an advantage, and Noel's advantage was the director's too in completing this film back in 1994. In recent years, we have had Zhang Yimous efforts at wu xia, Ang Lees, Ronny Yus and a number of lesser lights attempts to capture what King Hu did so well years before. For possibly Asia's most interesting director, it seemed that Wong Kar-Wai had beaten them all to the punch nearly 15 years before. Added to this advantage was the director's knowledge and apprenticeship in genre cinema, his formidable address book and the good fortune to have the best actors and actresses of Hong Kong cinema as regular contributors.

Yet back in the mid nineties, Ashes of Time came and went. Some found the film incomprehensible, some thought that the action was unsatisfying, and some said that all it boiled down to was pretty people looking sad in the desert. With the advent of DVD, Ashes of Time received awful treatment with the poor quality of materials and degradation of prints leading to shocking cropped and chopped presentations with illegible burnt-in subs.
So life has imitated art as the director most interested in the passing of time and passion, has had one of his films decay physically and also start to disappear from public recollection. To fight this phenonemon, the director collected together as many of the original materials as he could, re-scored parts of the soundtrack, and brought his formidable abilities in the editing room to bear.

The result of turning this cinematic tide shouldn't surprise people who know the director's best work. Wong Kar Wai's films really come together when they are assembled and cut, when he is happy with the tempo and narrative he creates then the director's work is superlative. When the director struggles to commit to a final version, this is usually a sign that his work has not achieved what it could. This unwillingness to let his films go into the world has led to charges of perfectionism but I would note that the relatively quickly filmed and cut My Blueberry Nights is a huge step down from the long shoots, re-shoots and endless re-edits of 2046 which took upwards of five years.
Coming back to his film, the awful synth score is consigned to history and often the images are allowed to show some of the time that has passed. With colours more vibrant, the photography becomes more expressionistic and often perhaps unavoidably choppy editing emphasisies the seasonal and temporal stories. The tidier narrative makes the film much more comparable to the director's best work as the shifting loves and sands play much like the multi-stranded stories of all his work since Chungking Express.

So the director who got there first, returns to the past and rediscovers what has continued to entrance his audience ever since. He has reformed a neglected piece and, as Noel said before I had the chance, shown that the lost film is due its place in his film-making canon. Even more than that, this work in comparison to all the recent King Hu wannabes(Yimou excepted), finally delivers something in this genre that is as moving and entertaining as A Touch of Zen.

Transfer and Sound

Just to show what a brave new world this disc represents, I have included several full screen shots below. The transfer is AVC encoded and features Master Audio lossless sound. Great care has been taken to manage some of the weaker parts of the print and very occasionally edges look more severe than natural(see Brigitte Lin's face below). This seemingly hasn't been done by boosting contrast or colour, and the treatment is very natural given the limitations. Detail is often incredible with the worry lines and beads of sweat impressively defined. Some of the almost painting like images are shown as a little soft and again this seems a good choice rather than sharpening materials that may not have been up to the job. The backgrounds of darker scenes, see the first screen shot above, yield a fair amount in the way of noise and grain but black levels are well graded and shadow detail strong, and the overall transfer is as good as could be hoped.

For larger screenshot (1920 x 1080) open this link in a new page

For larger screenshot (1920 x 1080) open this link in a new page

The newer elements of the soundtrack, such as the new music, are unsurprisingly clear and well defined on both the the 5.1 and master audio options. I am not sure about the balance between restoration and the use of new sound effects, but both tracks betray less of the time and damage than the the visuals do. The treble is incredibly well defined with Yo Yo Ma's cello incredibly affecting and rich, and the lower frequency of the thundering of horse's hooves possess surprising aggressive. The surround mix goes for coverage and atmosphere rather than 3-D impact and this seems sensible for a film which is less about action than reflection. The English subs are excellent, clear and optional.

Discs and Special Features

The AVC encoded transfer takes up 15.7 GB of the overall 20.8GB of this single layer region free disc. The menu is effective and easy to get around, and the special features here are interviews with main cast and crew, a trailer and a featurette rehashing some of the interviews. The director is reviewed twice, both times hiding behind his sunglasses, and throughout the questions he is asked flash up as intertitles. Christopher Doyle's piece is excellent as he talks about his career and how his work on this film paved the way for his contributions to Hero and Rabbit Proof Fence. Doyle also shows a real insight into the director's use of space and the whole piece is the best inclusion here.

Most of the cast speak in English and the fluency and depth of their remarks are affected by this choice. Tony Leung Chiu Wai seems a little guarded as he talks about his previous work in TV and martial arts, Charlie Yeung explains how she got the job out of school and Carina Lau mentions the long shoot in the desert. The same interviews are pillaged for the featurette as the tale of re-cutting and re-releasing the movie is relayed with clips from the film itself.


There is a Region A release coming, but Artificial Eye's disc is very good indeed. There's no need to hold on to those awful HK discs as the film and the quality of its AV treatment just got a whole lot better.

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Category Blu-Ray Review

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