Um... I Don't Get It. 

Wong Kar-wai's Inscrutable Ashes of Time Redux

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Wong Kar-wai is an easy director to love, but understanding him can prove more difficult. The Hong Kong auteur is best known for films like Chunking Express, Happy Together, and In the Mood for Love (let's not speak of 2007's disappointing My Blueberry Nights)—all unconventional films that eschew straightforward narratives. The apotheosis of his artistic inscrutability, though, has to be 1994's Ashes of Time, Wong's martial arts epic about, roughly, a desert-dwelling man who earns his living arranging assassinations. Ashes pushes the limits of patience and comprehension far beyond any of Wong's other films, which seem downright obvious by comparison, and the just-released Ashes of Time Redux is a restored, reedited version of the film that boasts cleaned-up subtitles and a slightly shorter runtime. Despite these changes, upon first watching it's still virtually impossible to figure out what, exactly, is going on here.

There's a cross-dressing woman with alter egos named "Yin" and "Yang." There's a blind swordfighter. There's a magical wine that makes people lose their memory. Memory, here, is identified as the root of all man's problems, and while many of the characters are plagued by memories of lost loves, that is literally the only sense I could make out of this beautiful but baffling film. (At least it's a pretty sort of befuddlement: Christopher Doyle's cinematography is beautiful, full of vibrant skies, vivid yellow sand, and the peculiar dusty haze that pervades battle scenes.)

Understanding Ashes seems to be something of a film-dweeb badge of honor—mentioning it in certain circles elicits comments like, "I had to watch it six times before it started to make sense!" Whether you take that as a warning or a challenge really depends on where you want to stand on the film-dweeb spectrum.

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