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Film / Ashes of Time

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"When you cannot have something, the only thing you can do is to not forget."

Ashes of Time is a 1994 Hong Kong Wuxia Martial Arts Movie written and directed by Wong Kar-wai, inspired by characters from Jin Yong's novel The Legend of the Condor Heroes.

Serving as a Prequel to the novel, the movie depicts a younger Ouyang-Feng (Leslie Cheung), the Western Venom, originally the antagonist of the novel, during his younger days as a broker for assassins and swordsmen. Characters from the novel, such as Huang Yaoshi, the Eastern Heretic (Tony Leung Ka-fai), Murong Yang / Murong Yin / Dugu Qiubai (Brigitte Lin) and Hong Qigong, the Northern Beggar (Jacky Cheung) makes an appearance, while at the same time a part of the story revolves around an entirely original character, the Blind Swordsman (Tony Leung), whose interactions with Feng serves as an inspiration to his eventual turn to darkness in the novel itself.


In 2008, 14 years after the movie's original debut, Wong Kar-wai re-edited and re-scored the film for a re-release. Simply titled Ashes of Time Redux, this is the version that's available to Western markets.

Ashes of Time presents examples of:

  • An Arm and a Leg: Hong defeats the left-handed bandit leader by slicing off his left hand, rendering him vulnerable and easily killed.
  • Bearer of Bad News: Inevitably, Feng had to be the one to deliver the news of the Blind Swordsman’s death to Cherry Blossom.
  • Blind Weaponmaster: The Blind Swordsman.
  • Booze Flamethrower: During his penultimate battle as the Blind Swordsman gets cornered in an inn by the bandit army, he pretends to take a mouthful of strong wine, then lights a candle and spit the wine on it towards a bandit sneaking up on him, killing the first bandit by turning him into a Man on Fire.
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  • Decoy Protagonist: Cool as his character is, by the time the Blind Swordsman dies the movie continues to go on for another hour. The fact that he’s heavily advertised on promotional materials and DVD covers (since he’s played by Tony Leung Chiu-wai) doesn’t help.
  • Death by Despair: Cherry Blossom’s eventual fate, combined with heartbreak after knowing the Blind Swordsman will no longer be with her due to his death.
  • Debut Queue: While Feng is the narrator and arguably the closest this movie had to a main character, the rest of the major characters gets a single arc (called an “Act”) focused to themselves, one at a time, before leaving the story for a new character to take over the spotlight.
  • Doomed by Canon: The Blind Swordsman and Pearl Blossom are entirely original characters that doesn’t exist in the novel, to which this film is a Prequel for. So, it comes off as surprise to NO-ONE that they both failed to outlive the credits.
  • Expy: Tony Leung's Blind Swordsman is pretty much a Chinese Zatoichi.
  • Fingore: Hong lose a finger during one of the many battles he participates in the end of the film.
  • Handicapped Badass: The Blind Swordsman.
  • Hold the Line: The Blind Swordsman, attempting to hold off against a small legion of bandits. He made it pretty far, single-handedly killing more than 30 of them in one single fight scene, but ends up dying.
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Most of the main characters, given the setting. But especially glaring is the Blind Swordsman, whose hair gets undone during his battle against the bandit horde, and gets to flow and wave about during his fight. It's even on the DVD cover!
  • MacGuffin Person Reveal: The Blind Swordsman mentions of the beauty of the cherry blossom that grows in his hometown to Ouyang Feng. After the swordsman’s death, Feng later travels to the Swordsman’s hometown only to discover there are no blossoms growing at all; instead Cherry Blossom is the name of his wife.
  • Moment of Weakness: During the peak of the Blind Swordsman’s battle against the bandit horde, the swordsman is able to cut down one opponent after another… until the weather suddenly changed to a cloudy overcast, temporarily confusing the swordsman allowing the left-handed bandit leader to sneak up and kill him.
  • No Name Given: Tony Leung’s character, the Blind Swordsman, and the King Mook bandit (played by Collin Chou) simply called the left-handed bandit leader.
  • One-Man Army: Pretty much any time a named character attempts to fight against the bandits, especially Hong and the Blind Swordsman.
  • Prequel: To The Legend of the Condor Heroes, the movie reveals the backstories of the novel’s characters and the events which made them what they are in the novel.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: Most of Hong and the Blind Swordsman's fight scenes against individual bandits tends to end the moment they draw swords.
  • Slashed Throat: How the Blind Swordsman dies by the left-handed bandit's sword.
  • Speech-Centric Work: Much of the movie's first half is just Feng talking to other major characters. This movie had a LOT of dialogue between all those swordfights.
  • Start of Darkness: The ending of the movie implies that Ouyang-Feng will soon descent into becoming the antagonist of the novel The Legend of the Condor Heroes.
  • Thirsty Desert: Most of the film is set in the scorching hot Northern Chinese desert. One scene shows a small pile of dead bodies belonging to bandits who have succumbed to the heat.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The movie ends with a montage depicting the fate of surviving characters.
    • Feng decides to burns down his dwelling and returns to his hometown. He later becomes leader of his own clan, acquiring the title of Western Venom.
    • Huang Yaoshi had since lost his memory, and retreats to an island of cherry blossoms where he becomes a hermit.
    • Hong Qigong became the leader and founder of the beggar's sect, an important element from the novel which this movie is a prequel for.
    • The entire ending pretty much sets up the remaining characters to tie into their novel counterparts after a lengthy Time Skip.
  • Zerg Rush: The bandit army employs this tactic against the Blind Swordsman, attempting to overwhelm him through numbers.


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