Jia Zhangke’s ASH IS PUREST WHITE begins and ends in the structured underworld of the jianghu—a tight clan of small-town gangsters. They’re led by sensible gangster Bin and backed by the loyal support of his long-time partner, the headstrong Qiao (Zhao Tao, director Jia’s wife and collaborator).
Unable to stop the passage of time and halt the shifting social dynamics shaping their growing region, Bin’s jianghu leadership is challenged by new blood. Guns are illegal, and disputes must be settled creatively, with fights resembling the instinctive resourcefulness necessary to survive a mixed martial arts battle under the influence of the Hong Kong Triad films of Johnnie To and John Woo. Qiao knowingly risks her freedom, opting to use a gun in an attempt to save the man she loves.
Time served, she emerges just as fiercely devoted to Bin and the way of the jianghu as she was before incarceration. Intent on integrating back into a way of life now on the brink of extinction, Qiao displays a near spiritual, unwavering reverence for the lost art of disciplined living amidst the instability of an increasingly treacherous and rapidly Westernizing China.
“Jia, an essential figure in China’s ‘sixth generation’ of filmmakers and one the most inventive and engaged directors of the 21st century, has long concerned himself with the effect of enormous social and economic forces on the intimate experiences of individuals. His movies, fictional and nonfictional alike, document the transformation of cities, landscapes and ways of life as those upheavals affect families, couples and groups of friends…” —A.O. Scott, New York Times “The melancholy anti-romanticism of Jia Zhangke’s time-leaping gangland melodrama suggests that modern Chinese society is in moral decay… Jia films the stern, grand drama with an avid eye for telling details that reflect stifled political protest, the nexus of business and crime, and the high-handed dictates of ruthless officials. The movie’s muffled crescendo reflects the decline of honor in a time of fear and surveillance.” —Richard Brody, The New Yorker “Theirs is a rural underworld governed by strict honor codes, spiritual beliefs and occasional eruptions of violence. That violence has yielded a rich repository of stories, cornerstones of Chinese popular culture that include wuxia martial-arts novels and gangster movies like TRAGIC HERO…You are pulled in almost immediately by the beauty of the characterizations, the specificity of the milieu and the depth of feeling that courses beneath every exchange.” —Justin Chang, The Los Angeles Times “[Jia Zhangke] has become…a cinematic poet of 21st-century.” —Emily Yoshida, Vulture
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