With Ash is Purest White Jia Zhangke created a film that is at once expansive and intimate, broad canvased but with a tight central focus, slow-burning and yet possessing a thrilling sense of immediacy. And, through his novelistic portrayal of a complex relationship over a 3-act structure, and in turn a layered exploration of China’s rampaging socioeconomic transitions, its cultural mores based on patriarchy and machismo, and the strict moral code of the jianghu underworld, the film memorably blurred the personal / political divide. In the 1st act, Qiao (Zhao Tao) and her mobster boyfriend Bin (Liao Fan) are an inseparable couple in the mining town of Datong, until their relationship screeches to a halt when she gets imprisoned for 5 years for protecting him from violent assailants with an unlicensed gun. In the beautifully picaresque next act, Qiao, freshly released from jail, travels to search for Bin, with the massive Three Gorges Dam over the Yangtze as the backdrop, only to find desolation, loneliness, and that Bin’s now moved on from his past life including her. And, in the final act set another few years later back in Datong, Qiao runs Bin’s erstwhile gambling parlour, while also taking care of a disillusioned and irascible wheelchair-bound Bin. The film abounds in self-referential allusions which should be rewarding to those who’ve invested in Jia’s filmography; the 2nd act, where Qiao is seen in the same outfit and setting as Still Life, made for a stirring sense of déjà vu. Leisurely paced, deftly photographed and comprising of pop soundtrack, it boasts of a magnificent turn by Jia’s iconic muse in the way her body language kept subtly changing over the course of the narrative.
Director: Jia Zhangke
Genre: Drama/Social Drama/Political Drama