Wong Kar-wai's decidedly magnificent, and perhaps notorious, sole foray into period martial arts, taken from Louis Cha's classic novel 'Eagle Shooting Heroes'. More about insistent memory than triumphant swordplay, Ashes of Time is an "action movie about inaction," about swordsmen in their twilight, seemingly at the edge of the world, marooned by thoughts tantalizingly clouded with lovesick memories, by the ache of loves lost. Every character herein pines for someone offscreen, and the desiccated landscape, the Leonesque use of close-ups and Morricone inspired scoring, and the
amazing pitch-perfect performances from the most glamorous stars ever to shine down on earth make these characters resonate with the force of archetypes. Though the blur of action sequences are certainly dazzling and glorious, this is mostly a movie of lone figures staring towards unseen, sometimes internal, horizons, their hearts lodged in another time. (The narrative suitably skips or inverts a couple of beats.) A movie about and for the lovelorn, especially if the object of love is movies. For the properly susceptible, Ashes of Time is one of the swooniest movies ever made. Grandly filmed by Christopher Doyle, with a palette and scale that requires the large screen.
Ashes of Time Director's Statement
"I like martial arts novels, so I thought maybe I should adapt Louis Cha's 'The Eagle Shooting Hero'. But what I am most interested in are the characters of Dongxie [Evil East] and Xidu [Venomous West]. Dongxie is elegant and cynical. People think he's really cool. But I think he's terribly selfish. As for Xidu, I like him because he's such a tragic character. Initially I wanted to get in touch with Louis Cha. He got to have some ideas regarding the history of these characters that he didn't put into the novel. But unfortunately I couldn't find him. So I started conceiving their stories myself. It turned out that this way I had even more space to create. I started fantasizing Dongxie, Xidu and Hong Qi as young men, and developed another story.
I've never done a costume film. I always think costume films are great fun. You can really be wild. Though in fact it's really hard work. So I find an easy way out: I make everything contemporary, and I sideline things like hierarchy and seniority. Actually costume films are very formalistic. Different social strata have different etiquette, conventions and ways of living. But it's ridiculous to sweat over research on their lifestyles. Because it doesn't matter how you do it , in the end it's all a sham. Even if you got things like sipping tea and eating rice down to their last details, so what? You still don't know if they are real or not.
I had wanted the film to be some kind of a journey. I wanted it to begin in Qinghai, the mouth of the Yellow River, and go all the way to Hukou. But that's too difficult. We couldn't afford that. Besides, you don't ask actors like Leslie Cheung and (Brigitte) Lin Chin Hsia to make a road movie. So I had to stay put in one place.
Basically the film is about emotions. It's a love story about Dongxie, Xidu and a woman, spanning half a life time. Certain emotions are eternal. When I got to the film's ending I finally realized what Ashes of Time is about, and its relationship with my previous films. They are all about refusal and the fear of refusal. Everyone in Days of Being Wild has been refused. They become afraid of being refused, so they refuse other people before other people have a chance to refuse them. It's the same in Chungking Express. But I think I have changed, so the film has an open ending. Tony Leung and Faye Wong don't really know where they stand with each other, but they know they can accept each other. Ashes is most deadly. It sums up the three previous films. How do you go on with your life after you've been refused? and you're afraid of being refused to begin with. So (Brigitte) Lin Chin Hsia becomes schizophrenic, Tony Leung Chiu Wai resorts to the most destructive method to solve his problems; Leslie Cheung hides in the desert; Tony Leung Kar Fai drinks himself to amnesia. The only exception is Hong Qi. He doesn't think being refused is a big deal. He just goes ahead to do what he thinks is the right thing."
-- condensed and translated from an interview with Wong Kar-wai, City Entertainment Biweekly, Sept. 8, 1994
Director and Screenwriter: Wong Kar-wai (1994)
Cinematographer: Christopher Doyle
Action director: Sammo Hung
Starring: Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Carina Lau, Jacky Cheung, Charlie Yeung, Maggie Cheung