'Ash is the Purest White': Review

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Tanmay Shukla

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Jia Zhangke’s Ash is the Purest White is unlike any drama/romance film that you have seen. It is the freshness of perspective, place and people that we don’t get to see on the big screen very often and rarely from a voice as striking and sharp as Zhangke’s. I didn’t know what to expect from Jia and I came out pleasantly surprised, thoroughly satisfied. It is absorbing and emotionally charging. It is quite funny too in unexpected situations. Jia Zhangke’s direction is not driven by style; it’s driven by the effect. He is very calculative in his directorial choices.

Qiao (played by Zhao Tao) is a sensational actress. The film heavily relies on Zhao’s performance and she has nailed it. She is a complicated character and the way Zhao has unveiled aspects of her personality is incredible and shows her incredible range as an actor. She is kind, smart, courageous and sensitive too. She serves time for her boyfriend Bin (Liao Fan) who also gives a stellar performance. She shoots a young man to save Bin’s life and serves five years in jail for her crime while Bin is let off. She is so spirited that Bin says—“You should be in your own forest.”

The cinematography in Ash is the Purest White is simple and understated. One might even call it restrained as whenever the opportunity comes to flaunt Jia lets it flow. Visually it is quite colourful and much more dynamic which is understandable because here the scope was there to be more creative.

In one scene, Bin is on crutches and they are together standing on a cliff, staring at a volcano. “Anything that burns at high temperature is made pure.” He is in underworld and she has a romantic notion about it. He says—“For people like us, it’s always kill or get killed. You have seen too many gangster movies.”

The film picks up substantial momentum from the fight scene. Qiao comes out of the car and saves Bin’s life. After that, there is a shot of the “healthier” and expensive cigar, cut to the bloodied bonnet ornament of Bin’s Bentley. The whole sequence is shocking and violent. Bin’s violence is not surprising at all, that’s thrilling but Qiao stepping out of the car and firing gunshots to silent the crowd is with all that swagger and authority. It’s shot in a continuous take and it’s unforgettable.

When Qiao is back from jail, she seeks Bin who doesn’t want to see her. He has a new girlfriend now. She tells her—“Relationships and feelings do change after time.” Qiao is stunned. When she finally meets Bin, how it happened is another funny (and sad) story, they don’t look each other in the eye. He asks her how long is she going to stay? She is desperate, longing for his attention, love and company. She answers—“I will stay as long as you want.” She has no one left after her father died when she was in prison.

Afterwards, they go to a hotel which is a scene of honest confrontation. “Am I that important?” Bin asks Qiao. “If not you, what is?” she replies. Qiao reminds Bin that she did five years for him. She says—“I don’t want to make it harder for you. So I’ll say it for you. It’s over between us. Does that make you feel better?” He is motionless and visibly distressed. He says tears eyed—“I should have been there for you. It’s not too late. Let’s jump over a flame.” In another scene, she says—“I want you to suffer, to live in pain” when he asks her “why didn’t she marry?”

Ash is the Purest White has excellent music selections and overall has the feel of a poetry to its narrative. The bottom line is, says one character towards the end—“We are all prisoners of the universe.” To say that it is only about Qiao’s aching love for Bin would be overlooking what’s happening behind the façade—the rapid socio-economic changes taking place in modern China in 21st century are just as relevant.

Rating: 8/10

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Ash is the Purest White - Official Trailer

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