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Wong Kar-wai's Ashes of Time

Wong Kar-wai's Ashes of Time

Wimal Dissanayake
with Dorothy Wong
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 196
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  • Book Info
    Wong Kar-wai's Ashes of Time
    Book Description:

    Ashes of Time, by the internationally acclaimed director Wong Kar-wai, has been considered to be one of the most complex and self-reflexive of Hong Kong films. Loosely based on the stories by renowned martial arts novelist Jin Yong, Wong Kar-wai has created a very different kind of martial arts film, which invites close and sustained study.This book presents the nature and significance of Ashes of Time, and the reasons for its being regarded as a landmark in Hong Kong cinema. Placing the film in historical and cultural context, Dissanayake discusses its vision, imagery, visual style, and narrative structure. In particular, he focuses on the themes of mourning, confession, fantasy, and kung fu movies, which enable the reader to gain a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the film.

    eISBN: 978-988-8053-34-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    Ashes of Time (Dongxie Xidu) by Wong Kar-wai was made in 1994. It is a martial arts movie, loosely based on the popular novel, Eagle-shooting Heroes by Louis Cha (Jin Yong). It took two years to make and cost 47 million Hong Kong dollars. Wong Kar-wai himself wrote the screenplay. Christopher Doyle is the cinematographer and William Chang is the art director. These three people form a well-known trio, having worked in some other films such as Chungking Express, Fallen Angels and Happy Together. The cast consists of eight of the most popular actors and actresses in Hong Kong — Leslie...

  7. 2 Background
    (pp. 5-22)

    Wong Kar-wai is a filmmaker who is closely associated with the second phase of the New Wave in Hong Kong cinema. However, while he shares many features in common with the second phase New Wave film directors, he is also different from them and stands out with his signature traits. While his own films share many features in common, and constitute an evolving oeurve, Ashes of Time is also different from the rest of his works. A recognition of these similarities and differences opens the doorway to understanding Ashes of Time and locating it in its true discursive context.


  8. 3 Story
    (pp. 23-34)

    Ouyang Feng (Malicious West, played by Leslie Cheung) is a middle-aged swordsman living in the desert, separated from normal society. When he was a young man, full of life and vitality, his desire was to make a name for himself as a skillful and intrepid swordsman and make a deep impression in the world of martial arts. He was so bent on achieving his ambition that he left his native home, the White Camel Mountain, leaving behind his girlfriend (Maggie Cheung) to chase his dream. In sheer frustration, and as a way of seeking revenge, the woman marries Ouyang's elder...

  9. 4 Characters
    (pp. 35-46)

    The characters in Wong Kar-wai's films are both fascinating and a challenge to the viewer. His characters, and the way he presents them, are different from those in most other Hong Kong films, and it is important to pay close attention to who his characters are and what they say and what they don't say. Within the dialogue the interplay of articulacy and inarticulacy invests Wong Kar-wai's characters with a sense of urgency and self-incomprehension. They seem to be striving for a deeper understanding of their world about which they have very little knowledge. These features are common to characters...

  10. 5 Narrative Structure
    (pp. 47-58)

    Wong Kar-wai is not a popular filmmaker in the way that, say, John Woo is. Many of his films have failed to generate widespread audience interest. His Ashes of Time, which was billed as a martial arts movie based on the popular work of Jin Yong, was eagerly awaited by the local audiences, but when it was first shown, many found it to be a let-down, hardly living up to expectations. For example, there were very few battle scenes and action sequences with the flying and bounding swordsmen that audiences had come to expect of martial arts movies. Part of...

  11. 6 Style
    (pp. 59-74)

    Wong Kar-wai is widely believed to be a disorganized filmmaker who has a tendency to improvise on the set without much preplanning and forethought. This impression has been created partly by newspaper accounts that describe his approach to filmmaking. It has also been strengthened by superficial examinations of the narrative structures and stylistic devices in his films. Despite appearances, he is a careful and meticulous film director whose work displays a compelling inner organization and a fidelity to his personal cinematic grammar. His filmic style, conjunctions and disjunctions of word and image, visual rhetoric and representational strategies bear the mark...

  12. 7 Martial Arts
    (pp. 75-96)

    Ashes of Time can be loosely termed a martial arts film. Hence, in order to understand the film one has to pay close attention to the poetics of this particular genre. Here we are using the term martial arts film to denote a generic category that includes swordfights as well as hand-to-hand combat. There is a certain terminological confusion here that should be clarified. Normally the Cantonese term wuxia plan is used to refer to martial arts films with sword fights like King Hu's movies or Aug Lee's popular film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The term kung fu is employed...

  13. 8 Time
    (pp. 97-108)

    A useful pathway to understanding Ashes of Time is the concept of time with all its complex and convoluted philosophical ramifications. The English title of the film clearly emphasizes the significance of time, while the Chinese title, roughly translated as Malevolent East, Malicious West, focuses on the concept of space. Much of the film is devoted to explorations of memory and desire entangled with time. There are intense moments of action interspersed with long periods of inactivity and waiting. Indeed, one of the visual strengths of the film, and the high points of Christopher Doyle’s camerawork, is the memorable depiction...

  14. 9 Melancholia
    (pp. 109-118)

    Ashes of Time, like most other films that reward close attention, is many-sided and tends to provoke lines of inquiry that carry the investigators in different directions. Hence, in order to comprehend the full force of meaning inscribed in this film, one has to examine it from diverse vantage points and perspectives employing different concepts, analytics and methodologies. One such concept that we feel serves to illuminate the experience thematized in Ashes of Time is that of melancholia, personified by the character of Ouyang Feng around whom much of the action of the film revolves. The idea of melancholia is...

  15. 10 Fragmentation
    (pp. 119-128)

    As we have attempted to emphasize throughout this volume, fragmentation is a defining attribute of Wong Kar-wai's films which inflects his themes as well as strategies of representation. It seems to us that fragmentation is pivotal to the way he looks at the world, tries to make sense of it and communicates it to us through his aural and visual signifiers. Wong Kar-wai's world is a world of ruin where fragments come to both undermine totality and reflect it. It is one of his artistic convictions that truth, if indeed we can grasp it, has to be grasped through the...

  16. 11 Response
    (pp. 129-138)

    Influenced by reader response theory in literary studies, film critics and theorists are increasingly coming to believe that the response of the audience is an integral part of the meaning of a film. Moving beyond the idea of the textual subject — amalgamation of Lacan and Althusser — disseminated by theorists associated with the journal screen in the 1970s, contemporary film theorists are seeking to call attention to the active role of the viewers and the historical subject in the construction of meaning. Hence in exploring the meaning of Ashes of Time it is not sufficient to restrict interpretation solely to textual...

  17. 12 Conclusion
    (pp. 139-148)

    We started out with the assumption that Ashes of Time marks a significant stage in the evolution of Hong Kong cinema. It is, in our view, a complex, self-reflective and visually remarkable film that rewards close and sustained attention. With this desideratum in mind we sought to locate Ashes of Time in its historical, cultural and conceptual contexts and to examine what we consider to be some important aspects of the meaning of the film, including the response of audiences.

    In this concluding chapter, it is our intention to focus on two important dimensions of the film: its intertextuality and...

  18. Appendix 1 Interviews
    (pp. 149-158)
  19. Appendix 2 Interactions Among Characters
    (pp. 159-160)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 161-166)
  21. Filmography
    (pp. 167-170)
  22. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 171-176)