"seems on the surface to be a sprawling Chinese gangster epic, but beneath the story outline is a restrained, brilliantly told examination of change, love, regret and capitalism"
Ash is Purest White seems on the surface to be a sprawling Chinese gangster epic, but beneath the story outline is a restrained, brilliantly told examination of change, love, regret and capitalism making its way into Eastern society.
Central to proceedings is the brilliant Zhao Tao, our narrator through a story of over seven years. She plays Qiao, the girlfriend to gangster Bin (Liao Fan) in a small mining town in China. Life there has a relatively bleak outlook, but as characters dance enthusiastically to The Village People’s ’YMCA’ in 2001, we can see how western culture and latterly ideas are slowly making their way into the cultural DNA.
When the gangland boss is murdered, Qiao and Bin find their world slowly unravelling, culminating in a quite brilliantly choreographed and shot central confrontation, that is as violent as it is restrained. The net result of the violence is that Qiao is sent to prison for five years as she becomes a fall girl of her own choosing.
Qiao’s central hiatus removes her from her daily life and after her release from prison, she finds the world she knew and the country in which she has lived has moved on without her.
It’s a film that draws you in with its fantastic performances and interesting themes. Director Jia Zhangke is more interested in themes and plot than the sex and violence that might be expected from such a narrative. Thrill seekers should look elsewhere.
His use of long takes creates an intimacy and focus with proceedings while he makes excellent use of the breath-taking landscape. The country is relevant, serving as a looming backdrop to the human story which remains front and centre.
It’s long, perhaps too long during some of the meandering scenes towards the end, but it none the less remains a film that pays out for those willing to invest in it.