Ashes of Time Redux
With the advent of digital technology, film-makers now have the ability to re-tool their work to a unprescedented level. Often, these new "director's cuts" bring mixed results. Most have praised Ridley Scott's re-editing of Blade Runner to be the definitive "final cut" of the movie, while many view George Lucas' tweaking of the "orignal trilogy" of the Star Wars pictures to be a way to make a few more bucks off of fanboys.
The situation with Ashes of Time is a bit different. Director Wong Kar-Wai did not intentionally set out to remaster the movie. But, on one fateful day, Wong was contacted by the storage company that was keeping the film's master reels, who was going bankrupt. Wong only had a few days to get the reels from the company, or else they would go to auction in order to pay off some of the storage company's debts.
Wong retrieved the reels and was dismayed to find that the storage company had let them fall into disarray, and so he decided to remaster the film before it was too late. However, Wong did not have a complete set of master reels, even after contacting distributors from all over the world. So he set about creating a new version of the movie with the footage he did have, which is what we have with the new DVD Ashes of Time Redux.
For years, fans of Ashes of Time have not really been able to enjoy a decent home version of the movie. The Mei Ah DVD (which has been long out of print) and VCD both sport "embedded" Chinese/English subtitles which are quite hard to read at times, and picture quality that never seemed to do the movie justice. The US version, put out by "gray market" company World Video, was even worse, since it simply took the Mei Ah transfer, chopped off the bottom part of the screen with the Chinese/English subtitles, and then slapped on their own badly-translated subtitles.
That situation has been recitified with Ashes of Time Redux. From top to bottom, this is a great DVD, and a shining example of what can be done with these sorts of "cult" films when companies are willing to put a couple of dollars towards the product. Instead of just slapping a new cover on the same version fans have already been watching for years, or, worse yet, putting out a dumbed-down one in order to save a few bucks, Sony Pictures Classics has definitely done the right thing here.
Upon starting the movie, fans will be awestruck as to how good it looks. The picture, which is presented anamorphically in its' original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, is sharp and gorgeous, with colors that pop off of the screen. Finally, one gets the sense that they're watching the movie just as Wong Kar-Wai and cinematographer Christopher Doyle intended it to be. It almost can make you a bit sad that you've "wasted" viewings of this film by seeing it through a smudged and grainy VCD or DVD.
Probably to appease some of our neighbors to the north, there is a French soundtrack present. But most fans will just want to leave things on the default Cantonese soundtrack, which has been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1, and sounds fantastic. Due to the damaged master reels, some of the score had to be re-recorded, via sessions with Yo-Yo Ma. The new music melds well with the original, and is very satisfying to the ears.
The English subtitles, which are presented on screen in a legible yellow font that blends in with the screen quite well, have a much better translation than previous video versions, which should make the story easier to follow for those who haven't seen the movie before.
Speaking of the story, things have been tweaked a bit here, due to the aforementioned missing footage. Redux runs about six minutes shorter than the original version. For fans of Sammo Hung's work, sadly most of the lost footage was parts of the fight scenes. But, on the other hand, this means that the story can still be told fully.
Wong Kar-Wai has re-edited the film into a more linear tale, disregarding most of the use of flashbacks, and employing chapter cards to keep the timeline more clear. It's hard to say if one version of Ashes of Time is better than the other. After watching both versions back-to-back, this reviewer found them both on the same level -- though it is pretty clear that new viewers will probably find Redux easier to jump into and enjoy.
Trailers: The trailer for Redux, as well as several other Sony Pictures releases, such as Kung Fu Hustle, are included. The Redux trailer is decent enough and worth a look, but it would have been nice to have the Chinese trailer, or the one for the original version, put in here as well.
Born from Ashes: This fifteen-minute featurette contains short interviews with some of the cast and crew that were filmed during the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. There's nothing that goes into any great depth here, but for what is bascially a promo featurette, it's actually not all that bad. It was interesting seeing some of the stars compared to how they look now versus when they were in the movie, there's some previously unseen on-the-set footage thrown in, and, frankly, if Christopher Doyle doesn't get a couple of chuckles out of you, then you should check your pulse.
Q&A with Wong Kar-Wai: Filmed during the 2008 New York Film Festival, Village Voice critic J Hoberman hosts this Inside the Actor's Studio-style sitdown with the noted director. The first part of this forty-five minute segement is a bit rough, as Hoberman stammers over a short history of Wong's filmography, even getting a few facts wrong, such as saying that Ashes of Time was the first movie to co-star both Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (that happened back in 1987 with People's Hero). Wong also seems pretty subdued and a bit short with his answers. But once Wong warms up and Hoberman starts taking questions from the audience, this becomes entertaining and informative stuff, providing a very interesting look into Wong's methods. This is really just the sort of feature more DVDs need to include, and just on its' own merits, makes this a worthy purchase for fans of the movie.