Table of contents

Ashes of Time

On memory as punishment

This is the story of a swordsman who sells vengeance. This is an ugly version of a go-between. People remember things that poison them & rather than cleanse themselves, they impiously want to poison others. Our man is strikingly rational – he puts a price on vengeance, but this only stops those inclined to calculate. It is no limit on passion: Some who love death might think it priceless in their devotion.

A dynasty is collapsing; passions overtake order. It is a desert. It is the year of a solar eclipse. Neither heaven nor earth show man anything good. Ouyang thrives in times of chaos. The past overtakes the future. Astrology fails to stop men. Dark passions emerge – revenge may not even be a matter of justice, it might just end the suffering.

Ouyang chose the public life of glory, his brother the private life of marriage. The emptiness of glory maddened him – he now proves to lovers they are as blind as he was: They pay him to kill what they love. He sees both beauty & property in love. Beauty is a deception; deceived lovers may successfully turn to property, like Ouyang; or love teaches them that life is not worth living. They may think it justice to destroy deceitful beloveds, like Murong.

I will leave it to my readers to follow the pairs of lovers & beloveds. The poet teaches love by the mysterious swordsman who practices against his own reflection. Or consider the blind swordsman: He loves both peach blossoms & Peach Blossom. But they are every year to be seen, whereas her love is fickle. Seeing is not enough for him. The man who kills him is his mirror image, being left-handed.

Our storyteller focuses on getting what’s good. Witness his temptations. An old friend – which may mean an enemy to a swordsman – offers him memory-burning wine: Huang wants to forget having fallen in love with his friend’s wife. Memories make life unlivable, because life is suffering. Ouyang does not want to forget his own past – he might repeat his mistake. An orphan, he hates neediness. She abandoned him because he would not make professions of love. He taught her this opinion: Better to abandon one’s lovers. Memory alone corresponds to imagined permanence: Truth is injustice.

Hong is a young swordsman who leaves home for glory. His wife follows him, as if love were a home. After he saves a village from bandits for the money, he discovers he has to pay to do justice. But he survives, & decides to take his wife on the road with him. His starving, convalescing like an animal, & his camel suggest he is the man to kill Ouyang.

The only Wong Kar Wai film to attempt to explain something about heroic literature & Chinese history. Worth watching. You can find links to his others here: HONG KONG cinema