Ash is Purest White (Jiang hu er nu)
Zhao Tao, Liao Fan, Xu Zheng
One of the most important and exciting filmmakers at work in the world today, Jia Zhangke’s (Still Life, A Touch of Sin, Mountains May Depart) latest is a superb gangster drama which competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2018 and picks up on his favourite themes – globalisation, consumerism and their alienating effects on Chinese society– with an urgent and empathetic eye.
In a bleak industrial city, young dancer Qiao (played by Zhangke’s long-time collaborator, Zhao Tao) falls in love with mobster Bin (Liao Fan). When Bin’s ballroom dancing-obsessed boss is killed, he takes on leadership of the ‘Jianghu’, a brotherhood of honourable criminals. But the old codes of honour are out of fashion, and when Bin is attacked by a new generation of gangsters, Qiao is forced to make a seismic choice.
As with his previous films, Zhangke uses his characters as a starting point for what gradually becomes an incredibly rich, almost novelistic filmic universe, exploring the past, present and future of a global superpower coming into being at unprecedented speed and how these abstract forces shape individual lives. Invoking tragicomedy, melodrama, cosmic enquiry and references to Zhangke’s previous films, ravishingly photographed and utterly transporting, it is a magisterial work of epic scope, a fitting addition to Zhangke’s record of 21st century China and its continuing transformations.