Ashes of Time (1994) / Action-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for some violence
Running time: 100 min. (93 min. for the redux version)


Cast: Leslie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Li Bai, Tony Leung
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Screenplay: Wong Kar Wai (based on the novel, "Eagle Shooting Heroes" by Louis Cha)
Review published October 1, 1998

In ancient China, a desert-dweller named Ou-Yang (Leslie Cheung, The Bride with White Hair 2) gets in the middle of a circle of stories involving various swordsmen. Huang (Tony Leung, Hero) is a swordsman who drinks some magic wine in order to forget his past. The film alternates between flashbacks involving Huang and Ou-Yang and a host of other swordsmen and women, all involved in stories of betrayal and revenge. Their lives all cross each other to tell an overall story.

Acclaimed director Wong Kar-wai (My Blueberry Nights, The Grandmaster) has created a beautiful, if murky, film. There are some nice stylistic touches throughout the film, and many scenes are tightly constructed gems visually, with a nice score adding to the feeling.

If only the script were as cohesive as the visual look of the film, we'd have a true masterpiece here. Based on characters introduced in a classic martial arts novel by Jin Yong (aka, Louis Cha) called "Eagle Shooting Heroes", the film is confusing, and only some of the stories are appealing.

All in all, I'd recommend the film for its visual splendor, and it does spark an interest from time to time, but the poorly constructed circular style of the film lends itself to many headaches when trying to determine what's going on. Perhaps a repeat viewing would help clear things up, but it's so hard to find a version with adequate subtitles.

Qwipster's rating:

1999 Vince Leo