The most lyrical of martial arts films, Ashes of Time is an almost absurdly gorgeous fantasia; it flutters in bounties of gently blowing breezes, glimmering ponds and warm, honey-hued horizons. Its heroes don't fight so much as float, flashing swords and drifting in waves of billowing robes — everything a dizzying blur of motion that looks as if it were shot through a fine silk scarf. And the calmer moments are infused with glorious shafts of light. ...
The film's visual excess and narrative obscurity divided critics upon its 1994 release — many found it exceedingly precious and willfully obtuse, and some simply didn't know what to make of it. The film arrived when innovative Hong Kong directors were expanding the definition of those traditional swordplay soaps called Wuxia, but long before master directors like Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou elevated the genre from the grindhouse to the art house. The film also came fairly early in Wong's career, before 1994's Chung King Express made him an untouchable critic's darling, and before his aggressive use of style-as-substance was fully embraced.
Now, devoted fans and curious film lovers alike get to see what they've been missing; this revised and remastered print comes complete with new music by Yo-Yo Ma, additional scenes and digitally enhanced color that makes the imagery even more otherworldly.
The late Leslie Cheung leads a stellar cast of Hong Kong stalwarts. He plays Ouyang Feng, a martial arts master who recalls times he recruited hired killers for customers (who'd manage to find him at his lonesome desert outpost). One thread involves a traveling swordsman with fading eyesight (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) who wants to see the peach blossoms once more before he goes blind, but accepts what's basically a suicide mission. Ouyang himself has a hidden heartache involving the exquisite porcelain features of the great Maggie Cheung.
All characters suffer from lovesickness and are willing to go to great extremes to blot out their hurtful memories, no matter what the cost. These Chinese boilerplates give Wong a structure with which to play, themes of loss and a rich backdrop to make his lovely, impressionistic brush strokes as sad and broad as they need to be.
Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237) at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 31, and Saturday, Nov. 1, and at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.
Email us at email@example.com.
Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.
Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.
Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.
Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.