The high point of Qiao and Bin’s relationship may be when they dance together to the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” — a pop-culture cliché that Jia embraces even as he mocks it. Gradually, though, the actress shows that Qiao has indeed grown into a lioness. As the country undergoes social, political, economic and ecological transformation, he asks how an old model of being can survive, suggesting that the jianghu, or outlaw, spirit might be the thing that persists. Qiao’s grit sustains her; when a petty thief steals her wallet, she scams her way into a wedding buffet and swindles cash from lusty, gullible men. They are the brightest stars in a constellation of hustlers, sycophants, tough guys and wannabes, whose admiration is streaked with envy and fear.
The most consistent focus of Jia’s attention is Zhao Tao, who has appeared in nearly all of his works since the 2000 film “Platform.” (They have been married since 2012.) Back at the turn of the millennium, in the northern Chinese industrial city of Datong, Qiao and Bin are an underworld power couple. Qiao’s grit sustains her; when a petty thief steals her wallet, she scams her way into a wedding buffet and swindles cash from lusty, gullible men.
He lingers at drunken parties, appreciates the solemn ridiculousness of ballroom dancers performing at a funeral and revels in the full-throated emotion of a cheesy love song. But the film as a whole is too rich with incident and surprise to be bleak. To this critic “Ash is Purest White” is a much more successful attempt at depicting a changing China through the lives of not-quite-tragic characters and their sufferings. Tao Zhao presents Qiao first as a tough kitten of sorts; during her prison stint, she looks drawn and wan, and stays seemingly timid upon release. Nobody is cooler. It’s Qiao who takes definitive action to save him—and winds up doing five years in prison for her trouble. But Jia’s perspective is neither nostalgic nor optimistic. He has written for a host of other publications and resides in Brooklyn. Later, she will find herself on a train heading west, striking up a friendship with a man bound for the province of Xinjiang. Zhao Tao in a scene from the film, which glimpses a changing China through the eyes of two lovers. Her love for him burns at a high temperature; like the volcanic ash referred to in the film’s title, it’s “made pure”. Like his prior film, 2015’s “Mountains May Depart,” this new picture from master Jia Zhangke is a three-part drama spanning decades. By the time “Ash Is Purest White” returns to Datong, in the present day, the city is almost unrecognizable. When Bin mediates a conflict between his subjects, talking one of them into putting aside a pistol he’s just rashly brandished, Qiao picks up the gun and examines it with no small fascination. When you purchase a ticket for an independently reviewed film through our site, we earn an affiliate commission.
The aura of romantic, outlaw chic that hovers around Bin and Qiao soon dissipates, replaced by the clearer, grimmer air of reality.
Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here. Once Qiao is sprung from prison, it’s 2006, and the monumental Three Gorges project, which was to transform permanently the Yangtze River, is underway. Albeit one that’s not just fearsome, but reflective and wise. She is a survivor, and perhaps because of that she endures more than her share of suffering. Bin is caught up in an unspecified turf war that culminates when he’s attacked by about a dozen youths who brutally beat him. A resilient gangster’s moll burns with misguided love in Jia Zhangke’s melancholy drama.
Packets of money change hands, and eventually a gun is fired, but “Ash Is Purest White,” Jia Zhangke’s enthralling new feature, isn’t really a crime drama. Bin and Qiao are soon revealed to be rather more serious people than these first impressions indicate. This compels her to embrace the jianghu code, or at least her interpretation of it, with even more ferocity. ‘Ash Is Purest White’ Review: Love Smolders and Crime Pays in a Changing China, Liao Fan and Zhao Tao in Jia Zhangke’s latest film, “Ash Is Purest White.”. It’s not the first time the possibility of extraterrestrial life has popped up in one of Jia’s movies, which are in every other respect the opposite of science fiction.
iao is a coalminer’s daughter from Shanxi, northern China (played, in a riveting performance, by Zhao Tao, director Jia Zhangke’s wife and muse). His movies don’t imagine a stable past to be mourned or longed for.
The movie represents both the director and his lead actress at the peak of their powers. Ash Is Purest White review – epic outlaw romance in a changing China 5 / 5 stars 5 out of 5 stars.
Qiao is a coalminer’s daughter from Shanxi, northern China (played, in a riveting performance, by Zhao Tao, director Jia Zhangke’s wife and muse).
At once delicate and indomitable, down to earth and otherworldly, she has come to figure in his filmography as both an Everywoman and a quasi-mythic being, a woman whose heroism resides in her refusal to disappear. (Since 2000, his non- or semi-documentary features, all essential, are “Platform,” “Unknown Pleasures,” “Still Life,” “The World,” “A Touch of Sin,” “24 City” and “Mountains May Depart.”) Nor do they project a happy future on the horizon.
Except, perhaps, insofar as the truest human feeling he recognizes is alienation. Qiao’s resourcefulness in “Ash Is Purest White” is a source of both pathos and encouragement. Her love for him burns at a high temperature; like the volcanic ash referred to in the film’s title, it’s “made pure”. But she’s crippled by this tenacity, too, fighting for Bin against her best interests.
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