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Ou-yang Feng lives in the middle of a desert, where he acts as a middle man to various swordsmen in ancient China. One of those swordsmen is Huang Yao-shi, who has found some magic wine that causes one to forget the past. At another time, Huang met Mu-rong Yin and under the influence of drink, promised to marry Mu-rong's sister Mu-rong Yang. Huang jilts her, and Mu-rong Yin hires Ou-yang to kill Huang. But then Mu-rong Yang hires Ou-yang to protect Huang. This is awkward, because Mu-rong Yang and Mu-rong Yin are in reality the same person. Other unrelated plot lines careen about. Among them is Ou-yang's continuing efforts to destroy a band of horse thieves. Oy-yang recruits another swordsman, a man who is going blind and wants to get home to see his wife before his sight goes completely. The swordsman is killed. Ou-yang then meets another swordsman who doesn't like wearing shoes. Oy-yang sends this man after the horse thieves, with better results. We then find out what a man must give... Written by
Scott Hamilton <email@example.com>
Haunting, beautiful and rather wonderful - one of Wong Kar-Wei's very best films
'Ashes of Time' is the rarest of Wong Kar Wei's films and best remembered as the one that so confounded him that he went off and made 'Chungking Express' to clear his mind before finishing it. Actually, it's worth remembering in its own right, as he brings his uniquely romantic take on the world to the fantasy swordplay genre with the expected unexpected results. There are sword fights, most of them pretty good, but the fantasy is kept to the bare minimum with the focus on the emotional cost of being a professional killer. Love is lost and so are memories, vengeance is sought and denied, characters meet but fail to connect, secrets are kept and regrets shared, all filtered through Leslie Cheung's inn on the edge of the desert where he acts as agent for killers for hire. The interest here isn't in action but reasons, and in the emotional cost of pursuing a life of violence, all captured via his usual dreamlike imagery and poetic confessional narration. Part Hong Kong, part European, part Leone (acknowledged/plagiarised at times in the score), not everything works, but the parts that do are quite magnificent, whether it's a woman tracing her hand over the sleeping body of a man who is not her lover or the curiously memorable shots of the horse thieves waiting their turn in a battle.
It can get confusing not only do the characters sometimes blur into each other but he even hires both Tony Leungs for key roles in the same film while Brigitte Lin plays dual roles and, just to add to the clarity, the film's chronology is very misleading but it's worth bearing with. A film I'll definitely be returning to, and I suspect more than just the once.
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