Sword play

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Fourteen years after a limited international showing, Ashes of Time, the third film by Hong Kong aesthete Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood for Love), gets a full U.S. release in a "Redux" version that's been tightened and technically enhanced by its director.

It's Wong's entry into the wuxia genre of swordsmen fighting for honor or money, more recently typified by House of Flying Daggers, and it comes with his distinctive characteristics and some favorite performers.

One is Leslie Cheung as Ouyang Feng, a man who has exiled himself to the desert after losing his love to his brother and now acts as a middleman between revenge-seeking villagers and hired swords.

Ouyang is the center from which loosely collected strands of plot emanate. There is the woman he loved (Maggie Cheung), a close friend since childhood (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and a swordsman going blind (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), each separated from what they want by vocation, pride or foolish choices.

As is the filmmaker's way, what's laid out doesn't provide a traditional sense of narrative satisfaction, and as it's early in his career, he hasn't mastered the art of creating a thoroughly intoxicating sensual feast.

But if you pick up on his rhythm, Wong can induce a trancelike state, between his elliptical narrative and the cinematography of Christopher Doyle. Wong's frequent collaborator saturates the desert landscape in blue and gold and turns an inferno into one of the most beautiful things you'll ever lay eyes on.

"Ashes of Time Redux"

Opens Friday at Landmark's Gateway Theater

Grade: B