Alternative Title: 東邪西毒
Directed by: Wong Kar Wai
Runtime: 93 minutes
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese with English subtitles
Ashes of Time is inspired by characters from Louis Cha’s novel, The Eagle-Shooting Heroes. It centers on a man named Ouyang Feng in Jianghu. Since the woman he loved has rejected him, he lived in the western desert, hiring skilled swordsmen to carry out contract killings. His wounded heart has made him pitiless and cynical, but his encounters with friends, clients and future enemies make him conscious of his solitude.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that there are several different versions of Ashes of Time in circulation, some approved by me, some not. To rectify this situation, we decided to revisit this project and to create the definitive version.
As we launched into the work, we discovered that the original negatives and sound materials were in danger: the laboratory in Hong Kong where they were stored was suddenly shut down, without warning. We retrieved as much as we could, but the negatives were in pieces. As if we were searching for a long-lost family, we began looking for duplicate materials from various distributors who had handled the film. We even looked in the storage vaults of overseas Chinatown cinemas. As this went on, we came to realize that there are hundreds of prints locked up in Chinatown warehouses in those cities which used to show Hong Kong movies. Looking through all this material felt like uncovering the saga of the ups and downs of Hong Kong cinema in the last few decades. And this history, of course, included Ashes of Time.
We founded Jet Tone Films in 1992, and Ashes of Time was our first production. I always regretted that the way we had to make Ashes of Time back then didn’t allow us to achieve the technical standards the film needed. Now, 15 years later, I want to put this right.
It’s complicated to revisit a dream that’s more than 15 years old. New technology helps much of the time, but not always. I’ve had to restrain myself from looking at the film through the filter of the experiences and changes I’ve been through in the years since I made it; I simply want to make the film what it was always supposed to be, and I accept its virtues, if any, as much as its mistakes.
To see the full Retrospective: Wong Kar Wai programme, please refer here. The programme will run from 5 March to 4 April 2021 at Oldham Theatre.
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