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Mr. Arkadin

Ashes of Time

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According to common consensus, Ashes of Time ranks as one of Wong's minor works (right alongside My Blueberry Nights) as an awkward and alienating foray into wuxia. I'll admit that after viewing it years ago, I more or less fell in line with the consensus. Ashes of Time plays with a kind of narrative abstraction that keeps it from being as immediately affecting as, say, Chungking Express or In the Mood for Love, the "popular" Wong films.

But revisiting Ashes of Time today was revelatory. In the years since I first saw Ashes of Time, I've developed a passion for the literature of Borges, Calvino, Eco, Modiano, and Saramago, who, each in their own way, returns to the ambiguities of narrative and self through the concept of memory. Wong's filmography can be seen as something of an extension of that same strand, but Ashes of Time more than most, given its use of abstracted fables as a vehicle for these complex ideas and emotional tensions.

Ashes of Time prefigures Wong's magnum opus, 2046, to the point that 2046 could rightfully be described as a remake. Both films offer an episodic labyrinth of desire and regret with the lingering memory of one aborted romance at its center (an aborted romance with Maggie Cheung, no less, whose brief monologue here is one of the high-points of Wong's career). If Ashes of Time doesn't quite encapsulate Wong's ethos to the extent that 2046 does, it nevertheless stands out as one of his most thematically and aesthetically unified films.

It's a shame that a high-quality version of the original cut of the film no longer exists (there are low-quality bootlegs, but that's all there ever will be, since the original film elements were badly damaged). I would have liked to compare it to Redux.

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NBooth   

I really love Ashes of Time and have never--well, "never" here being "never since I saw it a couple of years back"--gotten the kind of thinking that would rank it at the bottom of WKW's filmography. It's beautiful, for one thing. Not in the same way that, for instance, Hero is beautiful--but beautiful in its own parched, golden-hued way. Its storyline is, I think, more oblique than any WKW has attempted, but that's not exactly a weakness.

Good point about the 2046 parallels; those hadn't occurred to me. 

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16 hours ago, NBooth said:

I really love Ashes of Time and have never--well, "never" here being "never since I saw it a couple of years back"--gotten the kind of thinking that would rank it at the bottom of WKW's filmography. It's beautiful, for one thing. Not in the same way that, for instance, Hero is beautiful--but beautiful in its own parched, golden-hued way. Its storyline is, I think, more oblique than any WKW has attempted, but that's not exactly a weakness.

Good point about the 2046 parallels; those hadn't occurred to me. 

It is, indeed, very beautiful. Lots of strikingly strange, hypnotic images here.

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