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A question of loyalty in Ash Is Purest White

25 April, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Zhao Tao in Ash Is Purest White

Directed by Jia Zhang-Ke
Certificate 15

JUST how much is loyalty an admirable quality? At what point in a relationship do you override your heart’s feelings, your wish for someone to behave in a manner that fits in with your idea of what you want them to be like, and walk away?

In Jia Zhang-Ke’s latest Chinese language film, this question is at the centre of a captivating, meandering, original and at times frankly odd feature. Qiao (Zhao Tao) is in love with gangster Bin (Liao Fan). He rules the roost in the depressed industrial mining suburb of Shanxi.

We are slowly convinced of how much Qiao loves Bin, and how her position as his girlfriend gives her an enviable cachet – and then this is hammered home when she takes the rap for him for the ownership of a hand gun.

They are attacked by street toughs out to take over his patch (in a brilliantly choreographed fight scene) and Qiao manages to scare off the assailants when she fires his hand gun into the air.

From here the film expands quickly beyond the small-town setting – prison is followed by a quest to find and reconnect with her loved one.

An opening scene has a camera scan through the passengers on a bus and immediately manages to create an atmosphere you cannot shake off.

The locations are depressed city streets and interiors of drinking and gambling dens, run­down kitchens, markets: such is the director’s eye that you feel very much immersed in modern Chinese life.

Backed by powerful performances – Zhao Tao is particularly impressive – Ash Is Purest White not only offers a story that transcends boundaries – the characters could hail from anywhere and be believable – it also offers a view inside China today in a way rarely seen on film in European cinemas.


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