Ashes Of Time (1994)

Directed by
A work of art
Reviewed by Simon on 2002-04-14

Why do so many people recommend Ashes Of Time?

Because the characters are the most fantastically poignant examples of loss and loneliness ever to touch the screen.

Because the visuals are breathtaking.

Because it steadfastly refuses to tell you a story.

Because the sets and the costumes are fantastic.

Because the performances from many of the biggest HK stars are so good, and so different.

Because the dialogue is poetic and moving.

Because it makes you think.

Because it gives you a real idea of the life of the swordsman in "jiang hu".

Because when you've seen it enough times to work out what's happening in the action scenes, they're pretty good :-)

It's no Swordsman II, or anything like most HK films, but it's a really beautiful and moving piece of cinema.

OK, I will concede that ASHES OF TIME does not make sense in the standard "narrative coherence" sense of the word. Time is played like a rugby scrum, characters relationships are expressed obliquely if at all, and their thoughts are conveyed less through their monologues than through the images that accompany them.

If you're looking for a movie to tell a simple story, it's not ASHES OF TIME... it is bloody and resolute in its determination not to tell any story at all. Not because it can't, or there isn't a story there, but because that's not what the movie is about.

But I'm going to contend that ASHES OF TIME makes sense on a deeper level than that, somewhere at a primal level where words are snapped up by razor-teethed textures and sensations and... feelings.

My personal answer to the age old question "What is art?" has always been that art is a means of expression which communicates knowledge that cannot be absorbed through description/explanation. People can talk to you for hours about what sort of things happen when you feel loss, love, loneliness & regret... you'll know what the words mean but you won't really *feel* what it means. ASHES OF TIME shows you what all these things and more mean.

That to me is the point of ASHES OF TIME - an art movie in the truest sense. It enriches your knowledge in a way that a textbook can't. Also in a way that might have been difficult to accomplish with a straightforward linear narrative. I think WKW might have reasoned that if he presented his movie too simplistically, people would never scratch deeper to find the more important 'sense' it contains.

Since writing this Wong Kar-Wai has released ASHES OF TIME REDUX, a slightly re-edited version of the film which makes it a little easier to follow. I think it is an improvement.