Combining elements of Sergio Leone and Michelangelo Antonioni, Wong Kar-wai's masterful Ashes of Time is both a lively recasting of Chinese martial art conventions and a fascinating meditation on memory. Like Wong's Chungking Express, which he shot during Ashes's famously troubled production, this film concerns a handful of lonely, isolated souls who are so absorbed in their own melancholy world that they cannot connect with others. The Blind Swordsman (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) is crippled by nostalgia for his earlier sighted days, while Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung Ka Fai) drinks "Happy Go Lucky" and manages to blot out his memory. Also like Chungking, Ashes sets its characters amid a sterile, alienating landscape (the Gobi desert), while articulating their innermost thoughts through the groundbreaking use of multiple voice-overs. And the whole production is brought to life thanks to Christopher Doyle's gorgeous, lyrical cinematography. The all-star cast gives excellent, if enigmatic, performances. Juxtaposing hyperkinetic blurred streaks of violence with the wasteland of the desert, Ashes of Time brilliantly fuses visual poetry, a dreamlike non-linear narrative, and riveting action sequences to create one of the finest films Hong Kong has produced.
by Jonathan Crow review