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Text & Layout © Ed S, 2006. Ed asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

Long Reviews

Clarification of language in Ashes of Time


(This article is an expansion of my earlier ‘Clarification of subtitling in Ashes of Time’. As before, subtitle corrections follow my rambling introduction.)

I never tire of watching Ashes of Time. It grows as an experience and I see new aspects every time I watch it. But at the end of the day it relies on communication - always imperfect communication - to mould emotions and make that spine-tingling epiphanic connection, and it can sometimes be frustrating to see people failing to appreciate the film because of a gap in understanding due to the barrier of culture or language, rather than WKW’s innate obliqueness or the viewer’s natural, personal distaste. Though Wong Kar-Wai tends to have a divisive effect on many viewers, people’s reactions and understandings of Ashes can be so divergent as to make one wonder whether people have seen the same film - or whether concepts have been lost in translation.

Not every HK film can be translated as a sequence of ‘Ai-yah!’s. Although it does turn up sometimes...


If more people saw this film, then it would be easier to find informed opinion and consensus. However, international availability is an issue of some importance with Ashes. Of WKW's movies, this is one of the rarest in the West, and many critics/viewers have formed their opinions about the director on the basis of only his later efforts. Flick open most comprehensive video guides and there may be reviews for Chungking Express, and perhaps a handful of others, but Ashes is very hard to find. And to think that this was a film which required most of Hong Kong's pop star aristocracy to be dumped in a remote desert for months at a time whilst the production munched through record sums of expenditure! In Asia, though commercially unsuccessful, the film's aesthetic influence (if not its metaphysical slant) was felt comprehensively, its style pervading many other movies, its music even being recycled for numerous cross-border tele-dramas (a usual practice for television productions). Yet the movie is definitely not well known in the West.

However, understanding the film when relying on the available subtitles can be difficult, therefore greatly reducing the film's accessibility. Some will say that it doesn't matter, as they prefer to experience WKW's films at an aesthetic level. Fine, except that what is said is clearly of some importance - it's part of what the director intended. Furthermore, all languages have nuances which do not translate well. If a film or book makes use of linguistic nuances and idioms, then translations will either have to use parallel linguistic alternatives, or make do without. Then things can get pretty damn complicated - for example with written Chinese a third person’s gender (when using pronouns) is automatically identified as in English (‘him’/’her’, ‘he’/’she’), yet no identification is made when the same word is spoken in Chinese (unlike English).

The ‘talky’ parts are all important. After all, WKW films aren’t just mime acts.


At this point, I should just say that I do not advocate any other method of translating a film other than via subtitles. Dubbing would sound and look awful, as well as removing the original speech sounds and possibly resulting in an even worse translation.

You might ask why subtitling is of special importance in Ashes. Basically, the movie is full of time plays, propositions, promises, oaths, summaries of fact. Ordinarily, narrative is sparse to say the least in WKW's films. The same is true of this one, but that is not to say that the story is unimportant. Far from it, understanding the movie (and I won't pretend that my personal understanding is any more valid than the understanding of many other viewers) does rely on listening to what is said. There are several occasions when the subtitles (on my Mei Ah VCD) miss out a vitally important proposition (e.g. 'After insects awakening [a period in the calendar], business has been awful,' instead of (as it should have been), 'Spring last year, business was awful,'), which ends up leading the viewer astray in their understanding of cause and effect, or corrupting a concept which will later be referred to in the film again.

I might just add that I don't speak Cantonese as a first language, don't really read Chinese, and barely understand Mandarin at all. But I understand enough Cantonese to realise when a translation is wrong.

(I believe that Cantonese is the 'primary dub' on this movie in that most of the actors were speaking in Cantonese. Several scenes appear to feature synchronised audio - usually interior scenes - and so it is not too hard to hear which language (of the two languages available on most Chinese discs) was 'live'. An exception is probably Brigitte Lin - her Cantonese audio appears to be dubbed, so Mandarin is the 'live' audio track for her.)

If you can help me with any translation points which I have missed or misunderstood, feel free to tell me at my usual e-mail address.

My version of the movie is the Mei Ah VCD, which I bought in Hong Kong. I'm not sure how subtitles vary between all the available versions, but I'm guessing that they don't vary much. I would be very much interested to know if there are versions which are (mis)translated in different ways to both the Mei Ah version and my corrections.

In actual fact, the subtitles on the Mei Ah VCD are quite literate and logical, so you might think that they are well done. For the most part, they are well done (often miles better than those on my Chungking or Days of Being Wild discs, where the subtitles disappear for stretches of the film), but they let the film down on several crucial areas. The purpose of this clarification is to correct these errors and allow people to enjoy the film even more.

Of course, a lot of things in the film are unspoken - brought together by inference. Knowing what is said allows one to see where WKW drew the line between implication and explanation.


After my subtitle corrections I have included some more general points about the communication in Ashes. Rather than linguistic points these just flag several points of resonance which I have noticed from the film. This is all my opinion, of course, but I hope it offers new light for those like myself who watch this film again and again.


For the subtitles I've kept things simple, with the original subtitle first, followed by any suggested translation and appropriate notes. My translations will not be completely, literally correct, but I'm choosing what I think best conveys the intended meaning. I am not dealing with every slight correction, just the more interesting ones, or where further explanation may allow people to see aspects of the film otherwise hidden. As I say, I'm no language expert so correct me if I'm wrong. The listing is chronological, but I have made no attempt to point out the exact time in the film when the words are spoken - but this should be easy to work out if you have the film.

Leslie Cheung (voiceover): 'But there are some people who're just too proud to be jealous.'
Should be: 'I thought some people were just too proud to be jealous.'
This is during the opening voiceover, when Leslie tells us about his cynical outlook and how he has been coloured by jealousy. He then goes on to talk about Huang Yaoshi (Tony Keung Kar-Fei). The correction emphasises how Leslie acknowledges in retrospect that he may be wrong about Tony Leung Kar-Fei's character

Leslie: 'Someone you wanted to kill.'
Should be: 'Perhaps... you even thought of killing them.'
This is the scene where Leslie gives his patter to persuade an unseen customer. The subtitles put the proposition a little too bluntly.

Leslie (V.O.): '...and started this killing business.'
Should be: '...and started a different business.'
Again, during the patter scene. And again, the subtitles are too forceful. Talking about the start of his 'different business' ties in with the idea of a change of routine (referred to in just about every other WKW film) rather than just murder.

Tony Leung Kar-Fei: ‘She said it takes away your memory of the past.’
No suggested alternative, but see notes.
Referring to the 'amnesia wine' which Tony proffers to Leslie. More notes about this linguistic quirk later, but this is the first example of a character referring to a third person whose identity is not made clear immediately afterwards. The English subtitles narrow down the field of possibilities by specifying a female gender. In fact this is also true of the Chinese subtitles, due to the structure of the written language (which is why I can’t suggest an alternative). However, in spoken Chinese there is no noticeable specification of gender. Therefore, if we take the spoken words of the film as prime, no gender is imparted to us, whereas the subtitles - Chinese and English - are (necessarily) more specific.

Leslie (V.O.): 'He once stayed there for quite some time following his friend's wedding.'
Should be: 'In the year of his friend's wedding, he once stayed there for a time.'
Talking about Tony Leung Kar-Fei (when Tony makes a visit to 'the lady with the horse in the water', Carina Lau). The length of time is unspecific, as well as whether this was before or after the wedding.

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (V.O.): 'The last time I met him, I had almost gone blind.'
Should be: 'When I met him, I could no longer see.'
Tony Leung Chiu-Wau's blind swordsman after he rejects Tony Leung Kar-Fei's offer of a drink. This seems like a small quibble, but some might misinterpret the subtitle as 'the last time' he had met him, i.e. an occasion before. More importantly, Tony's oath is actually that he swore he would kill his friend if he ever saw him again, not just 'run into' him as the subtitles put it. This adds to the irony that when he sees him he can't actually see him and so has a logical reason to choose not to carry out his oath, rather than just being physically disabled from doing so.

Leslie (V.O): 'After insects awakening, business has been awful.'
Should be: 'Spring last year, business was awful.'
Leslie's voiceover shortly after Tony's Huang Yaoshi leaves. I'm not too sure about the names of the actual periods in the calendar, but the utterly crucial words last year are the important part here. Without them, viewers are led to believe that the narrative is continuing in a linear fashion, whereas this is not the case. In fact, the whole of the Brigitte Lin story (as she approaches Leslie to hire a killer) occurs ‘earlier’, probably before the start of the film (i.e. Tony Leung Kar-Fei has jilted her long ago). Some viewers think that he forgot to meet her because of the amnesia wine: this is not the case - he drinks the wine long after he jilted her. The only times we see her in the present(-ish) is when she appears in Tony Leung Kar-Fei's dream, the next scene when she slices him with her sword in fury (the last time they meet), the disembodied epilogue to her story where Leslie relates the legend of the 'Defeat-Seeking Loner', and maybe a couple of times in the closing montage.

Brigitte Lin: 'I want him to die an excruciating death.'
Should be: 'And I want him to die the most excruciating death possible.'
This is an addendum to the condition which Brigitte as Murong Yang (the male) attaches to the job of killing Tony Leung Kar-Fei. This gives Leslie the task of identifying the most painful way to die, which he later identifies as having your most loved one die first (something which fate marks out for him). This gives Brigitte's assignment certain logical complexities...

Leslie: ‘Do you know what it is? It’s you.’
No suggested alternative.
This is when Leslie tells Brigitte (female) her ‘brother’ has a weak spot - note the significance of Brigitte’s reaction. The offhand phrase, ‘it’s you’ is to become a crux in a later scene, to be connected with ‘that phrase’ - the magical, mutable thing which could have brought two lovers together for ‘one soul, one lifetime’. Please note that the absolutely specific Chinese wording is different when Leslie says ‘it is you’ later on, although the change is as minor as, say, a difference of contraction - another sign of the mutability of ‘that phrase’.

Brigitte: ‘He wants me to be with him forever.’
No suggested alternative.
Brigitte talking about her ‘brother’s’ protectiveness. This is just to flag the Chinese phrase that Brigitte uses which is roughly translated as ‘[he wants me to be with him for] one soul, one lifetime’, as in a commitment. The phrase ‘one soul, one lifetime’ is repeated (or resonated, if you like) by Maggie Cheung when she ruminates on ‘that phrase’ (see below). It would be hard to suggest an alternative subtitle here, although it pays to know that Maggie refers to the same phrase later on. It could be seen as a common phrase, but it's role is clearly as a recurrent theme.

Brigitte: 'I want him to know what it's like to lose the one you love.'
Should be: 'I want him to know what it's like to not be able to have someone.'
Brigitte as Murong Yin (the female) talking about her 'brother' to Leslie. This ties in with Tony Leung Kar-Fei's eventual position.

Brigitte: ‘Because of your promise, I’ve been waiting for you.’
Should be: ‘Because of those words, I’ve been waiting for you.’
This is when Brigitte talks to Leslie as if she were speaking to Tony Leung Kar-Fei (i.e. the last time they speak). The translation change is minimal, but gets closer to the intended resonance. Brigitte’s wording is later echoed when Maggie Cheung refers to ‘that phrase’ (in Chinese the wording is deliberately almost identical). Brigitte outlines a scenario which mirrors Leslie and Maggie’s.

Brigitte: ‘I asked you to take me along, but you refused.’
Should be: ‘I asked you to take me along, but you didn’t [do it].’
...Or something to that effect. Following from the previous translation, this again mirrors Leslie’s backstory. What I’m trying to highlight by my clumsy translation is the usage of the phrase ‘but I/you didn’t [do it/that]’. The phrase (always preceded by ‘but’) is used by many characters, including Tony Leung Chiu-Wai when he says he ‘failed to’ kill Tony Leung Kar-Fei (he actually says ‘but I didn’t do that’), and Maggie Cheung when she says that she was asked to run away with Leslie (‘but I didn’t do that’, written in the subs as ‘I turned him down’). There are also many examples of similar phrases. The importance of this reflexive wording cannot be ignored and highlights regret and the characters’ existential choices. The effect of repetition is partially lost through translation and the demands of context.

Leslie: 'Is it you?'
Should be: 'It is you.'
Again, when Leslie and Brigitte speak for the last time. This is when Leslie lies to Brigitte (as she wanted) as to who he (using Tony Leung Kar-Fei's identity) loves. Bizarre. And the answer may seem small and insignificant, but it isn't. In essence, it crucially ties in with the earlier reference to the same phrase and what Leslie fails to say to Maggie Cheung; what she calls 'that phrase'. The phrase varies - Maggie alludes to the simple 'I love you' which is structured the same in Chinese, although here Leslie's answer uses a different phrase to result essentially in the same meaning. Playfully, WKW has Leslie saying the phrase in a very offhand manner (almost, 'of course it's you'), emphasising just how unmagical and interchangeable those words can be from one point of view, yet be utterly vital from another. The subtitles lose this nuance as well as introducing an unacceptable level of ambiguity which doesn't exist in Leslie's answer. Also, the subtitles then call the phrase 'those three words', whereas this isn't actually specified in Chinese.

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai: 'Almost thirty.'
Should be: 'Just thirty.'
When Tony's blind swordsman meets Leslie for the first time. So when Tony goes to see Leslie he is already thirty, the age when he should already be blind. Shortly afterwards, the subtitles refer to a 'samurai', although it is dubious whether that Japanese designation is suitable for the generic swordsman whom Tony slaughters.

Tony Leung Kar-Fei (V.O.): 'But he wouldn't forgive me till his death.'
Should be: 'But he wouldn't forgive me even when he died.'
The short scene of Tony Leung Kar-Fei drinking just after the blind swordsman's death. This just clarifies the fact that (according to the speaker) his friend never forgave him.

Leslie: ‘Didn’t even move your finger.’
No suggested alternative.
Leslie talking to Jacky Cheung's Hong Qi (who has just entered the narrative) about how he observed him waiting. It’s easy to see how one may make a thematic connection of the reference to a finger with Jacky’s loss of a finger later. However, Leslie actually makes no reference to a finger at this point. He just says that he observed Jacky not moving, even though he didn’t seem ill.

Leslie: 'Shouldn't you put their fate in the hands of someone with no shoes?'
Should be: 'Shouldn't you put their fate in the hands of someone with shoes?'
Whilst trying to sell a swordsman to the village, Leslie tries to convince the villagers that Jacky Cheung is a better bet because he wears shoes (which Leslie has actually forced on him) and so isn't absolutely destitute, yet the subtitles completely misrepresent this by saying the opposite.

Jacky Cheung: 'I don't want to be a speaking corpse.'
Should be: 'I don't want to be a dumb [i.e. mute or inarticulate] corpse.'

Leslie (V.O.): 'The day they left, a westerly was blowing.'
Should be: 'The day they left, a southerly was blowing.'
The scene when Jacky leaves Leslie to strike out on his own. I'm not sure whether this means the wind was blowing towards the south (more likely), or from the south. In the case of the former, the almanac predicts fortune or luck.

Tony Leung Kar-Fei (V.O.): 'Because I know the untasted fruit is the sweetest.'
No suggested alternative.
When Tony Leung Kar-Fei sits with Maggie Cheung at her seaside retreat (before he has been given the amnesia wine). Actually, for once the subtitles have come up trumps with what is basically an encapsulation of the concept which WKW alludes to. Specifically, Tony only says that what can't be had will forever be perfect - an encapsulation of the perfect beauty of unfulfilled potentiality; to abstain from bridging the gap between fantasy and fruition. The image of the fruit complements this. The subtitles refer specifically to the image (which is not referred to in the Chinese), but the result is not heavy-handed, and so the subtitles are fine.

Tony Leung Kar-Fei: ‘I like peach blossoms only because of this woman.’
Should be: ‘I like peach blossoms because of this woman.’
Though there is an implication that this woman is why Tony’s Huang Yaoshi likes peach blossoms, it would go too far to put the word ‘only’ into his mouth - a word which negates any blurring of identity in favour of rock-solid certainty.

Maggie Cheung: 'I thought the words "I love you" really mattered.'
Should be: 'I thought that phrase really mattered.'
Of course, this ties in with when Leslie lies to Brigitte with a phrase. This time, the phrase isn't specified, even though 'I love you' is clearly what is alluded to, on one level, as fitting the bill. But, because it is unspecific, the other comparable phrase we have heard (and which will be recalled in our minds) is Leslie's simple, offhand '[of course] it is you' to Brigitte. The resulting ambiguity highlights how the phrase itself lacks an identity and is mutable, flexible. Also, the following line is when Maggie says she thought that phrase meant a ‘lifetime commitment’ - specifically, Maggie uses the Chinese phrase ‘one soul, one lifetime’ as Brigitte used earlier in the film, thereby drawing another contrasting comparison.

Leslie (V.O.): ‘I had such a happy time then!’
Should be: ‘Actually, it was pretty good then.’
When Leslie reminisces about his time back home at White Camel Mountain. He says it was ‘pretty good’, or ‘actually wasn’t bad’. This more understated style is ironic given the magnitude of his regret.

Leslie (V.O.): ‘I remember very well a woman’s waiting for me back there.’
Should be: ‘I remember very well that there was once a woman waiting for me back there.’
Leslie uses a phrase (Cantonese: ‘chang ging’, Mandarin pinyin: ceng2 jing1) which is used a lot throughout this film and means at a point in the past, or once in the past. The mistranslated version suggests that Leslie is under the impression that Maggie is still waiting, thereby enforcing the possibility that the amnesia wine actually works. The correctly translated version does not lend support to such an idea (although it also doesn’t disprove it).

Leslie (V.O.): ‘I always had the same dream that following spring.’
Should be: ‘I always had the same dream.’
I didn’t hear a mention of ‘that following spring’, so presumably Leslie is talking generally, or since the news of Maggie’s death and his subsequent imbibing of the ‘magic wine’. Therefore, he may have burnt the inn down and left the desert relatively shortly afterwards.



Communication is one of the key ideas in the films of WKW, often because it is the very thing which so troubles the protagonists - how to impart their emotions to another person. Ashes of Time is no exception. Some of the most interesting resonances in the film are due to communication, often via remarkably elliptical channels.

First things first, in a WKW film looking for solid certainty is often fruitless. Sometimes effect is not about logic. Take the scene when Tony Leung Chiu-Wai meets his death, and the film cuts to a shot of his wife (Carina Lau) almost reacting to the echoes of his demise. It is almost as if nature has conspired to make the empathic connection so that a ‘feeling’ can traverse space without the complexities of communication - all bridged by a simple cut.

Yet nothing is quite as simple as it seems. Carina’s reaction is, in the end, arguably not really her reaction to her husband’s death. The bridge of technique which WKW stretches between her and her husband was to be resurrected in Fallen Angels when the killer (Leon Lai) is seen to be contemporaneously treading the same locales as his contact (Michelle Reis) despite the fact that she scouted the location earlier and is absent when he arrives to do his job. Far from being merely a foray into formalism by WKW, this twisting of the causal framework enables us to compare a non-linear consciousness or way of seeing things with the restraints normally imposed by narrative causality.

In the end, narrative causality takes the message of Tony’s death to Carina - by the wickedly devious path of Leslie Cheung deliberately flaunting the dead man’s scarf - thereby making the communicative connection which (by an extraordinary ellipsis) allows us to finally see and hear the answer to Tony Leung’s last thought before battle: ‘I wonder if my woman would shed any tears for me?’

WKW builds on his distinctly personal brand of character interactivity, seldom concentrating on more than two-character dialogue at most. In a sense, one may say that requirements of synchronising superstar schedules is partly responsible for this fracturing of contact between all the main characters - a hallmark of many of WKW’s films - yet the occasionally tortuous methodology of the director seems to negate such an idea of compromise.

Whatever the case, we have a structure of webs, nodes and middlemen - relayers of secondhand information, joiners of disparate threads - people and things defined by their position in relation to others despite the feel of solipsism and isolation. Perhaps it is this imperfection of the ‘individual’ - never entirely individual nor merely a cog in a causal or social structure - which makes for such interesting viewing. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai asks Leslie to tell ‘that person’ (Tony Leung Kar-Fei) that there is a woman waiting for him in his home town. But we never see Leslie conveying this message (indeed, Tony Leung Kar Fei's Huang Yaoshi doesn't visit Leslie again). Instead, the idea is mutated by Leslie such that he visits the woman out of curiosity - he appropriates the strands of Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s connections to throw some light on his own situation: ‘As I was leaving I seemed to hear her weep - I suddenly understood why Huang visited me every year.’ And so it is then that we learn how Leslie and Tony Leung Kar-Fei are connected by Maggie Cheung - such a circuitous bridge being a WKW speciality.

The classic dramatic irony means that the audience have knowledge which transcends the limits of each character - we are confidants to Tony Leung Kar-Fei’s assertion that he loves Maggie Cheung; as well as the jealousy he has of Leslie which enables him to lie to Maggie and to withhold her location from Leslie. But this does not mean that we hold a god-like position as might be expected of classical drama - instead we are close to the consciousness of each character, close to the words that they nearly say but so often do not. This doesn’t result in us pre-empting character action, but rather the opposite as we uncover retrospective understanding: just why there is tension between the two Tony Leungs, or how Leslie was once hurt.

Another example of communication complicated, corrupted, and therefore made all the more fascinating, is the idea of the amnesia wine. Thematically associated with Tony Leung Kar-Fei, a late revelation has him telling us that the wine was from Maggie Cheung - an event presumably off-screen which gives his communication an element of unreliability. According to Tony, the purpose of the wine was to allow Leslie to forget Maggie. But from the very start of the film the wine has been a personal part of Tony’s own philosophy - and he never does successfully relay the message to Leslie (despite Leslie apparently being privy to the truth in voiceover - his voiceover persona having some distinctly non-causal capabilities). Instead, the corruption of Maggie’s communication throws light on the position of the ‘messenger’.

Ashes of Time throws the idea of unique, personal communication open - the amnesia wine is nodal; it connects main characters and is generic in itself. In transit is when it reacts most interestingly. It is a catalyst not just for its intended recipient, but also for the middleman, and the uniqueness of intentions is lost in a sea of conflicting causality. Such an idea reflects Chungking Express, where the uniqueness of emotions (or what is perceived as such) can only be expressed through concepts which are inherently common and interchangeable: from the commodities of canned pineapple, the mass appeal of a pop song, right down to a message of ‘Happy Birthday’ from ‘your friend in room 702’.

Indeed, this separation of effect and intentions, complicated by medium, is inherent in how Ashes of Time communicates to its audience. There is no patronising direct ‘message’. Often we are shown results before causes (such as Tony Leung Kar-Fei meeting his old acquaintances under the guise of amnesia, only to be rudely rejected by each) as this keeps us in a guessing game - but it also asks us how we engage with film: as passive recipients or active participants?

Traditionally, the audience is treated as an end user - an intended recipient of communication. While WKW doesn’t go against such an idea, there are elements which indicate a less linear conception than normal. Nodular concepts and images are repeated until they hold a hypnotic quality, yet they are seldom ‘used’ to reach a conclusion. It is possible to read meanings, for example, for the repetition of the birdcage, but such attempts rely on ascertaining author intentions - often a rather strained exercise. Instead, we are invited to free ourselves from the totemic solidity of linear communication, perhaps because the mesmerising nature of the film is about invoking personal reactions rather than understanding singular points. Detached from the responsibility of understanding the author’s absolute intentions we become a node, a relay, with the opportunity of gleaning our own personal meaning from the film, as valid as any other.

This is not a broadside on auteurist ideals - rather it is a comment on how WKW acknowledges corruptions of communication which are nonetheless emotionally profound and a liberation from the constrictions of singular interpretation. Can anyone think of better corruptions of communication than have appeared in WKW's films? From Takeshi misinterpreting Brigitte Lin in Chungking and Charlie Yeung in Fallen Angels to the criss-crossing of intents in Days of Being Wild, the idea that anyone holds an absolute truth or can reach absolute understanding is an alien concept, and it is in the bridge of the audience where the tension lies. More recent WKW films, like In the Mood for Love, develop this idea of audience participation in order to fill ellipses and find answers. WKW has described how he went to great lengths to create the feel he wanted in ITMFL, down to choosing the correct chef to cook Shanghainese meals for cast and crew, yet he acknowledges that such details will almost certainly be lost on the audience. Such an approach elevates the emotion of creation above the idea of an ‘end result’, which is why an audience is invited to explore beyond the boundaries of definite author intentions and to absorb the feel rather than any message.

Just as Leslie understands how Tony Leung Kar-Fei can almost voyeuristically observe the tears of Maggie (tears not intended for him) - and how that is why Tony continues to run the rigmarole of visiting both - we observe the emotions which WKW squeezes out to the screen, a labour of his personal feelings, whilst we impress our own understandings depending on our emotional standpoints. Whilst WKW has deliberately aimed such feeling at us, often via technical skill and artistic flourish, the line between creation and reception is not bridged by a fixed idea of interpretation, but is instead blurred by open possibilities.

With its focus on miscommunication, Ashes of Time displays WKW’s obliqueness, to a level which some viewers find disconcerting and frustrating. But perhaps it is this move away from linear certainty which starts to make us reappraise how we understand the concept of ‘understanding’ and appreciate a new ‘flow’ between creator and audience.

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