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Ashes of Time (1994)
Director: Wong Kar-wai

Ouyang Feng is a heartbroken and cynical man who spends his days in the desert, connecting expert swordsmen with those seeking revenge and willing to pay for it. Throughout five seasons in exile, Ouyang spins tales of his clients' unrequited loves and unusual acts of bravery.

Ashes of Time (1994)

All Along the Watchtower

Kar-Wai is one of the three best directors working today. Many feel this is his best work. Surely it is the greatest leap since his previous, but I find the Mood-2046 pair more important, even life-altering.

If you come into this expecting a story that unfolds in good order and makes sense, you will be disappointed. The overlapping of layers, the folding of narrative, the merging of images is what we’re in for.

There are two famous stories about this. The first is that at some point he quit work, then quickly went off to make “Chunking Express,” during which he “found himself” …

The other story has to do with “Pulp Fiction.” Tarantino is a huge borrower of ideas. Having already written a couple “raw” movies that people admire, he stumbled upon Kar-Wai in the midst of making this — a long affair. All the clever bits in the structure of “Pulp” are from this, just as surely as all the clever bits in “Star Wars” are from Kurosawa.

What are those bits? Multiple persons in one body. Multiple bodies for one person. Circular storytelling where any part is the beginning. Nested narrative where one story tells another. Characters that imagine and forget each other, bringing them into our world and out.

Death, love, yearning, accident, encounter.

All of this at the beginning of a luscious partnership between Karwai and Christopher Doyle. They are today what Greenaway and Sacha Vierny were. Dangerous adventures in cinematic imagination coupled with mastery of cinematic expression.

This takes a few too many chances and you can see precisely where Kar-Wai abandoned it to search for sense. (He always shoots in order of what you see.) But if you are ready for the transcendental thrills of his later work, you might want to start here.

Posted in 2005

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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