Wong Kar Wai's beautiful but demanding 1994 martial arts epic Ashes of Time has been impeccably restored, with "Redux" added to its title, and has excellent subtitles that help the viewer understand that it is set in the parallel universe of its genre and unfolds in five parts according to Chinese seasons. Visually superb, its score enhanced by added music, Ashes of Time Redux is an elegiac, contemplative work with an elliptical narrative that is hard to follow.
Its key figure is Ouyang Feng (the late Leslie Cheung), a shrewd, reflective swordsman whose rejection by the woman (Maggie Cheung) he loves leads him to settle in a desert shack, where he hires other swordsmen as hit men. Meanwhile, a woman (Brigitte Lin) has gone mad from being rejected by Ouyang's close friend, the handsome, romantic Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung Ka Fai). Huang, in turn, pines for the wife (Carina Lau) of his best friend (Tony Leung Chiu Wai).
Upon the completion of the film, derived from a novel by martial arts genre master Louis Cha, Wong recognized that Ashes is an expression of an abiding preoccupation with - and fear of - rejection. It suggests that life can be beautiful, it can be an adventure, but that almost everybody seems to be unlucky in love and in life's choices.
He further implies that the workings of fate and emotion will do most of us in every time - but that a sense of humor helps.
Ashes is glorious and ultimately wrenching, but it's a tough journey.
Ashes of Time Redux
(Sony Pictures Classics) Starring Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Ka Fai. Directed by Wong Kar Wai. Rated R for some violence. Time 93 minutes. In Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles.