Redux is playing in theaters, so I watched the original first to get all the plot and characters straight. I know that Plot And Characters Do Not Make The Movie, but even with crazy movies like this and Out 1, I like being able to keep all that stuff straight before I can lose myself in the atmosphere of the film. Also, although there are about eight mega-superstar actors in this, I only recognize half of them. My Hong Kong/Chinese moviewatching has fallen sadly behind. A study guide follows.

Leslie Cheung is in all the framing-device scenes, probably the single star of the movie. Easily recognized throughout by the mustache. Moved out to the desert to forget his true love, Maggie Cheung, who got tired of waiting for him and married his brother. Sort of a swordsman matchmaker – hooks up would-be killers with people who need somebody killed. One day will be called Malicious West.
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Seen him in: Farewell My Concubine, The Chinese Feast
Still need to see: A Chinese Ghost Story, A Better Tomorrow

Tony Leung Ka Fai, or “Tony 2” – old friend of Leslie’s, comes around once a year. This time he brings a wine of forgetfulness for Leslie to drink, but ends up drinking it himself. Visited Maggie Cheung once a year, gave her an update on Leslie. A ladies man, I think he’s in love with Carina Lau. Will later be known as Evil East.
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Seen him in: Dumplings
Still need to see: Election, The Lover

Maggie Cheung – object of affection of the above men. She gives the wine to Tony 2 to be given to her ex, Leslie, in hopes that Leslie will forget her. Dies of an illness before most of the movie takes place, but we don’t find that out till the end.
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Seen her in: Irma Vep, In The Mood For Love
Still need to see: Comrades, Centre Stage

Brigitte Lin – crazy woman who comes around as a “man” trying to hire a killer for Tony 2, then comes back as herself trying to hire a killer for her “brother”. She fights and almost kills ex-flame Tony 2 herself at one point, maybe when she first met him, then later becomes obsessed with him. Finally goes off into the desert practicing sword skills on her reflection.
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Seen her in: Chungking Express, Royal Tramp 2
Still need to see: Bride With White Hair, Swordsman 2, Police Story

Tony Leung Chiu Wai (“Tony 1”) – former best friend of Tony 2, is quickly going blind. Needs one last high-paying job so he can afford to go home and see “the peach blossoms” (see below) before his vision fades completely. Hires on to protect a nearby town from bandits, but the bandits take too long to show up, he loses more of his sight, and he dies in the battle when clouds darken the sky. Perfect role for Tony 1, the saddest of all actors.
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Seen him in: 2046, Infernal Affairs
Still need to see: Cyclo, City of Sadness

Carina Lau – beloved of Tony 1, named Peach Blossom. Mostly crouches in flashback looking awesome… has hardly any lines. She fell in love with Tony 2 years ago, which is why Tony 1 is alone and sad.
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Seen her in: 2046 (she’s Lulu/Mimi), Flowers of Shanghai
Still need to see: Curiosity Killed The Cat, Intimates

Charlie Yeung – poor girl who wants to hire a swordsman to avenge her brother’s death at the hands of the militia with some eggs and a mule. Leslie and Tony 1 turn her down, and Tony breaks her eggs.
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Seen her in: Seven Swords, Fallen Angels
Still need to see: Butterfly Lovers

Jacky Cheung – dirty, barefoot, badass swordsman. Leslie hooks him up, gives business and strategy advice. Jacky is well paid for defeating the bandits, and also takes on the militia in exchange for Charlie’s egg (but almost dies). Rides off with his wife (not Charlie) in the end. One day to be known as the Northern Beggar, will fight a doubly-fatal duel with Leslie years later.
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Seen him in: Once Upon a Time in China, As Tears Go By
Still need to see: Bullet in the Head

Movie is an imagined prequel to popular novel “Eagle Shooting Heroes.” All the cast members also appear in film The Eagle Shooting Heroes, a parody dir. by Jeffrey Lau, with supposed participation by Wong and Sammo Hung. Will have to see to believe. Edit: Found it, watched in between Ashes and Redux, reviewed here, still not sure if I quite believe it! Other filmed versions of Eagle Shooting Heroes all seem to be TV series, although Royal Tramp and the Swordsman series are based on other books by the same author.

Screenshots above are from a scrappy foreign DVD (still not half as scrappy as the American disc looked), then a week later I ran out and watched Ashes Redux on lovely new 35mm (minus the topmost and leftmost 5% of the picture – thanks, Landmark). I am not considering these two separate movies, of course. Don’t know why the IMDB has a new page for Redux – they don’t have five different pages for The New World. Besides being able to see what’s going on and properly appreciate the glorious cinematography, Redux straightens out the plot threads at the start and end, the bits about the memory wine, Tony 2, Leslie and Maggie. It also cuts out a whole fight scene, the one that the original drops the viewer into at the beginning without explaining a damned thing. I miss that fight scene – it was awesome, and one of my favorite shots of the video was in it: a black-eyed, wild-haired Tony 2 giving a monstrous, slow-mo, silent scream.

I did understand everything better while watching Redux – but is that because Wong re-edited, or because I’d spent the week before studying the movie? I don’t think of myself as the type who champions straightforward stories over complex mood pieces, but Redux does probably work better. Movie leads up to this grand emotional moment of Maggie crying over her lost Leslie, talking about her failure to spend the best years of her life next to the person she loves most, and if you didn’t couldn’t make sense of the wild first ten minutes of the film, that’s not going to hit very hard. I’m apparently only good at summarizing plot and character, which, as I said three pages ago, isn’t what makes the movie. The desert, the mountains, the spinning birdcage, the haze, eclipses, sudden swordfights, and endless stories of lost love all add up to a pure and excellent film. I’m not saying it’s my favorite – most of Wong’s films are excellent – but it’s up there.

Writes T. Brogan on the film vs. novel:

The original plot actually dealt with two characters nicknamed “Evil East” and “Wicked West”, aged, respected and feared demi-gods in the pugilistic world. Arch rivals, their tussle for power was the backdrop against which Cha’s main protagonists (a pair of lovers from the entire trilogy series) were tested in terms of their wits, loyalty and love for one another. In Wong’s film, however, the hands of time have been turned back, and the focus is primarily on the two men, now portrayed in their prime, and seeks to “explain” the beginnings of their bitter feud in a progressive manner.

Wong:

Basically the film is about emotions. It’s a love story about Dongxie [Tony 2], Xidu [Leslie] and a woman, spanning half a life time. Certain emotions are eternal. When I got to the film’s ending I finally realized what Ashes of Time is about, and its relationship with my previous films. They are all about refusal and the fear of refusal. Everyone in Days of Being Wild has been refused. They become afraid of being refused, so they refuse other people before other people have a chance to refuse them. It’s the same in Chungking Express. But I think I have changed, so the film has an open ending. Tony Leung and Faye Wong don’t really know where they stand with each other, but they know they can accept each other. Ashes is most deadly. It sums up the three previous films. How do you go on with your life after you’ve been refused, and you’re afraid of being refused to begin with? So [Brigitte] Lin Chin Hsia becomes schizophrenic, Tony [1] resorts to the most destructive method to solve his problems; Leslie Cheung hides in the desert; Tony [2] drinks himself to amnesia. The only exception is Hong Qi [Jacky]. He doesn’t think being refused is a big deal. He just goes ahead to do what he thinks is the right thing.

Nice movie… felt really good walking out of this one.

Shot by my hero Christopher Doyle with lots of slow-motion, but looks more idiosyncratic in Van Sant’s style than in Doyle’s. Shot in 1.33:1 aspect ratio (thankfully respected at the Plaza). I notice light levels slowly fluctuating. I see Van Sant’s long, wandering shots and his slooow forward camera movement like in Last Days and Elephant, but seriously toned down now, not calling attention to themselves anymore. Regular story segments are buffered by 8mm skate footage. The soundtrack was the most surprising part. Music is usually playing, and it’s all over the map, from suspenseful Bernard Herrmann sounding pieces (actually Nino Rota’s circus-noir), thrash punk, glitchy ambient music, singing in French, a cowboy song heard twice, some hip hop, a bit of indie rock (Menomena), bird calls (!) and two Elliott Smith songs (which did not remind me of Good Will Hunting, but it’s understandable that reviewers keep bringing that up).

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Acting ranged from very good to great with a nonprofessional cast (except surprisingly for our guy’s girlfriend, who starred in Jim Carrey’s Grinch and other high-profile stuff). Story is told out of order, as is so fashionable now, with flashbacks and diary-entry narration. Never flashy with the editing, the flow and pacing really work for the story, so the non-chronological thing is never annoying. No Kids (or even Elephant) style gratuitous teen sex, even when there was a convenient spot for it in the story – thanks for that.

And the story, wow, smaller and more intimate than you’d expect from the trailer, with real depth and feeling for our lead character Alex. He’s a low-key skater kid, hangs out with his friends Jared and Macy and girlfriend Jennifer, deals with his excitable younger brother and his divorcing parents. Then one day he goes to the title skate park alone, goes off to play on the train tracks with a cool older kid and accidentally causes the death of a security guard. Tension mounts when a detective comes to school to question all the kids, and later (actually revealed earlier than the group interrog.) questions Alex alone. The detective isn’t a bad guy, and wants to solve this crime, but Alex feels horrible for what he’s done, and we do not want to see him locked up. At the end there’s no scene where the detective sighs to his partner “I guess we’ll have to rule this one an accident”, but we assume Alex gets away with it. He writes his confession in a journal then burns the pages, freed (or at least partially relieved) of his guilty burden. It’s a beautiful ending, one of my favorites of recent years.

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Wonderful anthology film, bunch of episodes connected with unexceptional cityscapes shot by one of the producers. I don’t know anything about the neighborhoods of Paris, but I guess each short is supposed to have its own local tone to it.

Montmartre
Man is cursing traffic, cursing everyone, alone and angry, then woman walks by and passes out next to his car. He acts the husband to other onlookers and lays her down in the backseat. She wakes up, they kinda like each other, she’s off to her tobaccologist (?) but they’ll meet up later. A nice opening piece, more like the kind of short that plays the film festivals than most of the other segments turned out to be… they were more episodes, excerpts, not stand-alone stories.
Director Bruno Podalydès starred himself, along with Florence Muller of Resnais’s Coeurs.

Quais de Seine
Boy’s friends are yelling insulting things to every woman who walks by, so boy gets away from them and helps up muslim girl. They like each other, it’s cute, her grandfather is nice to him, awww.
Director Guriner Chadha made Bride & Prejudice and Bend It Like Beckham.

La Marais
Jokey bit where dude helping artist Marianne Faithful at a press falls immediately for guy sitting on floor. Dude talks to him forever, tells him how they were destined to meet, gives his phone number, walks off, turns out guy on floor speaks no French, har!
Director Gus Van Sant lovingly photographs Gaspard (the boyfriend in A Very Long Engagement) and Elias (Elephant) in mostly long takes.

Tuileries
American tourist Steve Buscemi is waiting for his subway train and breaking the rules in his tour guide (“don’t make eye contact”), getting himself involved in the power games of two young lovers across the station and leading to his being beaten up with his souvenirs dumped all over him. Poor guy.
Directors Joel & Ethan Coen almost make up for The Ladykillers with this one. Katy was defeated by too-high expectations.

Loin du 16ème
Girl puts her own baby down at the babysitting place, then rides public transit to her job taking case of some rich lady’s baby, sings the same sweet song to both babies. One of the more obvious message-movies, but nice.
Director Walter Salles (Motorcycle Diaries) cast Catalina Sandino Moreno, of Fast Food Nation and Maria Full of Grace.

Porte de Choisy
Okay, Barbet Schroeder is a bald hair-care product salesman who goes to hardass Madame Li’s place to sell her stuff. First meeting doesn’t go well but she tries the stuff and calls him back, delighted. Sort of a choreographed musical comedy. Makes no damn sense. Best part is when he’s between meetings, bowling at a monastery and monks take away his cell phone.
Directed by Christopher Doyle, who I see is shooting a Rufus Sewell thriller and Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park next.

Bastille
Guy meets his wife for lunch, intending to tell her he’s leaving her for his mistress, but first she hands over a doctor’s note saying she has terminal leukemia. So he “rises to the occasion”, dumps his girlfriend, and spends the rest of his wife’s life doing things they used to love to do together, falls back in love with her and is destroyed when she dies. The only piece with a 3rd-party narrator, and one of my favorites.
Director Isabel Coixet made The Secret Life of Words and My Life Without Me… stars a guy from Va Savoir as the husband, the girl in a coma in Talk To Her as the mistress, and Miranda Richardson as the wife.

Place des Victoires
Kinda crappy despite two fave stars Willem Dafoe and Juliette Binoche. Her son died a week ago and she follows his phantom voice out to the plaza where Dafoe is a cowboy on a horse who lets her see her son once more. Katy liked it, I thought it was David Lynch-derivative.
Director Nobuhiro Suwa made some well-regarded Japanese movies I’ve never heard of before.

Tour Eiffel
Kid describes how his mime parents first met. Awesome, funny, features identical twins, imaginary cars and lots of miming… the one short that the whole movie would be worth seeing just to catch.
Director Sylvain Chomet’s follow-up to the perfect Triplets of Belleville.

Parc Monceau
In a single shot, father Nick Nolte walks down the street with his daughter to where a friend is watching her son. He takes over babysitting and the friends go off together. Jokey because the dialogue at first makes it sound like she’s cheating on her husband (actually the son) with Nolte.
Director Alfonso Cuarón is into long takes now. I told Katy I was waiting for something to explode but she didn’t get me.

Quartier des Enfants Rouges
One of the better ones… Maggie Gyllenhaal has a kinda cute encounter with her drug dealer, then calls him up to order more (really to see him again), but he sends a flunky instead who steals her watch.
Director Olivier Assayas has apparently completed his new Asia Argento / Michael Madsen thriller.

Place des Fêtes
Another great one, man gets stabbed and as he’s dying, a girl he recognizes is trying to help him. He flashes back to his not-so-easy life in Paris and all the times he’s tried to talk to her. Sad movie.
Director Oliver Schmitz has made a buncha German films. The girl is Aïssa Maïga, the lead (bar singer) in Bamako and also appeared in Caché.

Pigalle
Guy is trying to have a role-playing night out with his wife – it doesn’t go as planned but they’re still alright.
Director Richard LaGravenese made Freedom Writers, seems a weird choice for this. Bob Hoskins stars with Fanny Ardant, whom Katy recognized from 8 Women.

Quartier de la Madeleine
On a creepy street with desaturated colors except for bright-red blood, model Olga Kurylenko is devouring Wes Craven when Elijah Wood interrupts her. Vampire love ensues.
Director Vincenzo Natali made Cube and Nothing, and has seen Sin City more than once.

Père-Lachaise
Spacey, businesslike guy’s on a pre-wedding honeymoon with cute girl, she kisses Oscar Wilde’s grave then decides he’s not romantic enough for her and storms off. He talks to Wilde’s ghost briefly then runs after her and quotes her some Wilde, which idiotically makes her fall back in love with him.
Director Wes Craven isn’t known for this kind of thing. Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer are the couple, Alex Payne plays Wilde.

Faubourg Saint-Denis
Blind boy gets phone call from girlfriend, apparently breaking up with him. He flashes back in high-energy Lola-style through their relationship, how he first met her thinking she was in trouble, falling for her rehearsal performance (she’s an actress). He’s fallen for it again and she’s not really breaking up with him. One of my faves.
Director Tom Tykwer made Perfume. Natalie Portman is the girl. This apparently existed as a separate short back in 2004.

Quartier Latin
Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara get together at a cafe to talk over their divorce at the end of a long marriage. Good one, Rowlands wrote.
Director Gérard Depardieu is probably a big John Cassavetes fan, appears himself as the waiter.

14th arrondissement
Another really nice one, American woman is narrating to her French class (?) about her trip to Paris. She’s kind of lonely and jetlagged, but everything falls into place for her at the end.
Director Alexander Payne made Sideways and Election, and actress Margo Martindale is in Rocket Science and played Swank’s mom in Million Dollar Baby.

Katy liked it, too.

The “worst movie of 2006” label affixed to this is one of the most kneejerk backlashes I’ve seen. And people are attacking M. Night for his acting, but I think they meant to say his casting, putting himself in the martyred messiah role. Whatever.

Paul Giamatti is a superintendent with a tragic past who thinks he has no purpose in life. Bryce Dallas Howard (Ivy in The Village) is a fairy come to earth to do… something. Paul has to send her back to her homeland by keeping the evil grass wolf away long enough that the giant eagle can pick her up. To do this, he has to find some key people who live in the building. He gathers them all together, finds out he’s done it wrong, and gathers a different group instead. Meanwhile they throw a building party and a pessimistic film critic gets taken out by the wolf. Jeffrey Wright from Broken Flowers is in there as a crossword puzzler, and the kid from Heroes is his son. And Bryce tells M Night that he’ll write a book that will inspire a great leader to change the world.

Moving story about finding your purpose, about helping others find theirs, about hope for the future. A fairy tale. I loved it, especially towards the end. The eagle pickup shot from inside the pool is terrific. Amazing looking movie, bizarre/cool compositions confused me at first but turns out it was shot by Christopher Doyle so that explains everything. Katy thought it was okay, but lacked in execution in a few places, “some of the dialogue was terrible” and she “totally disagrees” with me for thinking it was awesome.

Oh dear. I finally see Days of Being Wild and it makes as much of an impression as As Tears Go By or Ashes of Time did, which is to say, not much. Probably shouldn’t have watched it over four separate days.

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A blur of characters and situations: a young man tries to convince his stepmother to give up the identity of his real mom – later he visits the mom but she won’t see him. maggie cheung is cute and two guys like her, including andy lau, who was a cop but becomes a sailor. Hong Kong and the Philippines are involved. Leslie Cheung must be the main guy, but I never recognize him. At the end someone is shot maybe in a train maybe over a passport. Oh here we go, courtesy of the IMDB:

“Set in 1960, the film centres on the young, boyishly handsome Yuddy, who learns from the drunken ex-prostitute who raised him that she is not his real mother. Hoping to hold onto him, she refuses to divulge the name of his real birth mother. The revelation shakes Yuddy to his very core, unleashing a cascade of conflicting emotions. Two women have the bad luck to fall for Yuddy. One is a quiet lass named Su Lizhen who works at a sports arena, while the other is a glitzy showgirl named Mimi. Perhaps due to his unresolved Oedipal issues, he passively lets the two compete for him, unable or unwilling to make a choice. As Lizhen slowly confides her frustration to a cop named Tide, he falls for her. The same is true for Yuddy’s friend Zeb, who falls for Mimi. Later, Yuddy learns of his birth mother’s whereabouts and heads out to the Philippines.”

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I noticed Mimi/Lulu from 2046 was in this, but didn’t realize Maggie’s character was the same Su Lizhen as in the others. The two men stay together in a hotel at the end (in room 204, one digit short), not at first realizing that they both knew Maggie… the hotel room scenes reminiscent of Happy Together (not that I’m queering this film, just saying the setup is similar).

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Exciting photography, in that grainy Chungking Express way, not in the polished Mood For Love style. Gotta watch the whole again, obviously… a whole mini-fest of Wong Kar-Wai videos is in order.

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