July 22, 2019

ASH IS PUREST WHITE: Maybe You SHOULDN'T Stand by Your Man

Starring Zhao Tao, Liao Fan, Feng Xiaogang, Xu Zheng, Casper Liang, Zhang Yibal. Directed by Jia Zhangke. (136 min).

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😸

Ash is Purest White is an epic gangster film of a different sort.

Qiao (Zhao Tao) is the girlfriend of Bin (Liao Fin), a powerful Chinese gangster. He has the respect of his peers and, after his boss is murdered, is expected to assume command. Then one night, Qiao saves him from a savage beating by a rival gang and is sentenced to five years in prison for possessing an illegal firearm.

Even though Bin doesn’t visit her in prison, Qiao searches for him once she’s released, tracking him to another city, where he’s-since left the mob – apparently in disgrace – and is working at a nuclear power plant. He also has a new girlfriend. Realizing that picking-up where they left off isn’t in the cards, Qiao is lost (also broke because she was robbed on the way to see Bin). Now truly alone, Qiao is forced to fend for herself and it’s implied she’s never really had to before. However, years of living in the periphery of the mob has rendered her surprisingly resourceful.

When your hotel room has no Wifi.
A character piece presented in three distinct chapters, Ash is Purest White takes place over the course of 18 years. The story unfolds almost exclusively from Qiao’s perspective, meaning the viewer isn’t made privy to the inner-workings of the organization (or the questionable enterprises they’re engaged in). Still, Qiao’s an interesting character because even though she’s likable, she’s definitely no saint. However, she obviously loves Bin, even though the feeling may or may-not have ever been mutual. One of the film’s more intriguing ambiguities is Bin himself, who seems to change – for the worse - with each chapter, yet remains emotionally aloof. 

But it is Qiao who drives the narrative and her transformation is indeed fascinating, as quiet desperation gives way to fortitude and resolve. The second chapter, where she’s essentially directionless, is the most interesting. Zhao Tao infuses the character a strength that isn’t often conveyed in words. In fact, very few of the movie’s most pivotal moments are provided through exposition, which might frustrate some viewers, as will the unexpectedly abrupt resolution. And other than a brutal, bloody beating early in the story, it mostly eschews traditional elements of Western gangster films.

Ash is Purest White isn’t for all tastes, as it requires some inferential effort on the viewer’s part. But it’s beautifully shot, with good performances and two compelling lead characters. Ultimately poignant and even poetic, at times, it’s a quietly rewarding journey.

"DIRECTORS DIALOGUE” - A one-hour interview with director Jin Zhangke, filmed before an audience at the New York Film Festival.

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