A while ago, I was invited to a screening of what turned out to be just an early cut of a film scheduled for general release in a few weeks' time. More recently, I viewed the final version of the same work in a cinema - and was astounded by how different it was. For while its story remained the same, what previously came across as a deliberately paced art house film had been re-edited in such a way that it now felt more like a "peppier" mainstream production.
It's not just that elements such as ambient sound and music had been added to the earlier, rough version of the work. Rather, the film had also been tightened up and had its rhythm altered by the moving around of certain scenes: a few that originally had taken place later in the work had been brought forward and fitted into earlier sections.
My feeling is that the final version of this film was considerably better than the early one I viewed. But the jury's still out for a wuxia epic originally released in cinemas in 1994, then in a "Redux" version that had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival 14 years later.
Arguably Wong Kar-wai's most ambitious work to date - and also his most star-studded film (with a cast that included Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, and Maggie Cheung Man-yuk) - Ashes of Time is the kind of film that you either love or hate. Those who don't care for it say that its convoluted narrative flow is difficult to follow.
The multistranded story has been made a bit more linear in Ashes of Time Redux , and the 2008 film has a slightly shorter running time. But the most noticeable differences relate to its soundtrack and visuals: the original's synthesiser score has been replaced by an orchestral one in which Yo-Yo Ma's cello plays a significant part, and the newer version's images look considerably more vivid after remastering.
On paper, these sound like positive developments. Yet I know I'm not the only person who misses the older, more familiar soundtrack, even though I'm happy with the way the Redux version of the film looks.