Lau Wai Keung And Chan Yuen Kai
Leslie Cheung as Ouyang Feng in "Ashes of Time Redux."

ASHES OF TIME REDUX — ** — Leslie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung; with English subtitles (Chinese dialects); rated R (violence, gore, brief sex, vulgarity); see Page W2 for theaters

There's no denying that the Oscar-winning "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and the other martial-arts epics that followed it owe the mostly forgotten, 1994 Hong Kong feature "Ashes of Time" at least a small debt.

Those films definitely borrowed some of its visual style — especially that of its balletic action scenes, which were vastly different from the supposed "chop-socky" action that preceded it.

There's also no denying that the film remains an acquired taste at best. That's even true of the recently released "redux" version, which was slightly altered by its maker, Wong Kar-Wai.

Though the story has been reassembled and edited by nearly 10 minutes, it's still a bit of a head-scratcher, complete with murky plotting, unappealing characters and sometimes incoherent action.

"Ashes" is an adaptation of a Louis Cha novel about a man named Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung), who hires himself and others out for those needing a hired sword.

Most recently, his travels have brought him into contact with Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung), a brokenhearted man who's been drowning his sorrows with wine.

As it turns out, Feng has been hired to kill his new acquaintance by Murong Yin, a relative of Yaoshi's former lover, Murong Yang. (Confusingly, Yin and Yang are different personalities of the same woman, played by Brigitte Lin.)

Other subplots involve a swordsman with failing eyesight (played by another different actor named Tony Leung), as well as a fighter, Hong Qi (Jacky Cheung), who refuses to wear shoes.

You practically need a scorecard to figure out who's who here, and which of these characters were involved with whom.

Most of all, you need a reason to care about at least a few of them. Lin's conflicted Yin and Yang are pretty unpleasant. (Why couldn't we spend more time with Feng's ex, a too-briefly-featured Maggie Cheung, instead?)

"Ashes of Time Redux" is rated R and features strong violent content (sword fights, including stabbings and slashings), some gore and blood, brief sexual contact, and some suggestive language and references. Running time: 93 minutes.