A sprawling crime drama with strong performances and visuals
ASH IS PUREST WHITE - Chinese Director Zhangke Jia's (A TOUCH OF ZEN) latest is a sprawling drama about a two-bit local hood Bin (Fan Liao) and his moll Qiao (Tao Zhao; the Director's wife & muse). The first part of the story about their rise and fall takes place in the early 2000s and is the most purely entertaining with verve and visual impact, even if it covers a mostly familiar trajectory. We pick up the story several years later and the couple is estranged. Clearly the years (and a forced separation) has changed the individuals (especially Bin). The final section takes place in the present (more or less).
ASH is a longish movie (136 minutes), not just in terms of time, but, also how the screenplay unfolds over the 17 year period. The acting and details are spot on (Zhao is particularly exceptional), but, the story drags after the sparkling opening section. Part of this is by design, without question, however, ASH is an example of a movie with so many apparent endings that one loses interest, rather than gains it. And, when we come to the conclusion, it is neither fully satisfying, nor, more importantly, seems worthy of the additional time spent to arrive at it.
Still, ASH is a decent drama with some considerable merits (a long hotel sequence is deeply moving). The performances, Jia's direction and Eric Gautier's (MOTORCYCLE DIARIES) cinematography (combining 35mm with digital) are its strongest suits.
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