A directorial misstep or a fall from grace can sometimes have a retroactive effect. One poorly received film can seem to expose the flaws and failures of its predecessors, tainting an oeuvre or, at the very least, inviting its reappraisal. This can sometimes be for the good (even those of us who cheered Fernando Meirelles’s 2004 Oscar nomination have to admit that City of God and The Constant Gardener aren’t looking so good now, huh?), but it can also be ungenerous, to say the least. Great art of any kind can never come without a certain amount of risk, and the price of taking those risks is leaving yourself open to the occasional failure and, correspondingly, the tired charge, “Maybe he isn’t as good as people say he is”—or worse, “Maybe he never was as good as people said he was.” Case in point: Wong Kar-wai, whose ooey-gooey road trip movie My Blueberry Nights was unmistakably “Wong,” with its lushly stylized visuals and wistful romantic philosophizing. It was also an unmitigated disappointment, a contrived, superficial, disposable mess. Was it the American setting? The close ups of gelatinous pies? Natalie Portman? Or was it that, transplanted to more familiar terrain and stripped of subtitles, Wong’s filmmaking became more transparent, his shortcomings as an artist and a storyteller simply easier for English-speaking critics and audiences to discern? Perhaps, some say, Wong was never quite as good as we all thought he was.
Rest assured, then, that there is no need for a systematic reappraisal. Wong has followed up his Blueberry mess by returning to one of his first films, 1994’s spottily available Ashes of Time, which has, since its initial release, floated around in various versions. Wong has excavated, reassembled, and revisited the film, piecing it together with raw material assembled from sources around the globe. The resulting Redux includes a few minutes of new footage, credit sequences, digital effects, and a re-arranged score, with some additional music (courtesy of Wu Tong). And though it may not differ as markedly from the original as Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux did, it is nevertheless an unqualified triumph, the kind of cinematic experience that will remind audiences why they fell in love with Wong in the first place, whether they’re rediscovering the film or seeing it for the first time.
Click here to read the rest of Chris Wisniewski’s review of Ashes of Time Redux.