Ash Is Purest White (2018) Poster

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10/10
Resourceful Woman and Modern China Rising
Raven-19694 October 2018
Qiao is cool headed, smart, responsible and resourceful; good qualities to have when your boyfriend is a gangster. When Bin, her man, gets into trouble, Qiao gets him out of it. She fades into the background when Bin needs to take the spotlight. Qiao even takes a fall for Bin when he needs her in a pinch. And that is when he forgets her. Qiao emerges from five years in prison to cold indifference. To Bin, it is as if she did not exist. "People should keep their emotions in check" Bin's new woman tells Qiao. And even China seems to have forsaken her. This is a land where cities are swallowed whole by reservoirs, and the dark water is rising around Qiao. But this ingenious woman is going to get her groove back and do what is right, Bin or no Bin.

Such depth and beauty to each element of this enthralling film. The cinematography is luminous, characters are fascinating, the story is not predictable, and bits of modern China are revealed for the complex wonders that they are. Depth is everywhere. Surprises are constant. Analogies are all around; tigers lurk in cages, a volcano looms in the distance, and a street performer picks out Qiao from a crowd and sings to her "who knew I'd ever see you again." He speaks to her heart but does not know it. The actor who plays Bin has one expression in his bag of tricks, so he could have been better, but otherwise the acting is quite good. North American premiere seen at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
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6/10
Tao Zhao: what a revelation!
FrenchEddieFelson4 March 2019
We follow the evolution and the misguidance of a mafia couple for a decade. With highs (classically: money, feeling of power, ...) and lows (to be discovered!). I did not know Tao Zhao: she plays perfectly
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9/10
GREAT MOVIE
badis7-489-9111378 November 2018
This movie teaches a valuable life lesson, the ending is harsh but so is life. Having went through a similar situation, this piece of art affected me deeply.
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A sprawling crime drama with strong performances and visuals
gortx25 March 2019
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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10/10
One of Jia's masterpieces
Chris Knipp11 October 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Gangster love in modern China

A "gangster epic," some call this film. But more than that it's a love story, heavy on the disillusionment and survival and light on the romance. Epic in feel it nonetheless is, with its panoramic vision of survival and transformation in 21st-century China. It starts in 2001 and ends somewhere near today, where people are compulsively filming each other with their smart phones. Riveting, strangely reminiscent at times of Wong Kar-wai and clearly referencing some of Jia's earlier films, especially Unknown Pleasures and Still Life (and his first foray back into gangster territory since A Touch of Sin). There are also homages to John Woo. This is a reconsideration of the romantic heroine of those two films and its two parts are set in their respective settings, the towns of Datong and Fengjie. Organic and intense yet calm, Ash shows a master filmmaker at the top of his powers.

At the center and nearly always on screen is Jia's muse and wife Zhao Tao as Zhao Qiao, owner of a little bar (with Mahjong) where she falls for a local gangster with an air of authority, Bin (Liao Fan, of Diao Linan's neo-noir Black Coal, Thin Ice). We don't see him doing much gangstering, but there is violence, off-screen and on. Bin talks recurrently about being Jianghu, and for the non-sinologist that seems to mean, maybe, trouble with moral values (see Maggie Lee's more informed Variety review for specifics). It sometimes may mean panache, sprezzatura; other times, duty and resignation. Anyway Bin is a provincial Datong gangster, a big fish in a small pond whose many "brothers" clearly show him much respect at the little mahjong club.

In the first scene Bin takes out a pistol, and Qiao handles it. We hear of a businessman, probably shady, but without known enemies, being murdered after a sauna by young toughs. Violence on screen is sudden: quickly two similar aspiring young tough guys attack Bin with a metal pipe and badly damage a leg. He lets thems off easy when they're identified and brought to him. (Turns out they hit the wrong man. Beginners' bad luck.) Later, Bin, looking posh, is riding with Qiao in a chauffeured car and the violence ramps up. He jumps out of his car to counter-attack a crowd of thugs in a brutal and physically specific street battle where at first he is winning, then very much not, and she steps out and saves his life with that pistol. They both go to jail. He gets out years sooner, but Qiao is released he isn't at the prison gate to meet her. She begins an odyssey in search of him.

This man and woman are more completely at the center than the figures in Jia's 2007 Still Life but this new film refers to the same great upheavals, particularly the decline of a mine industry and the displacement of 1.4 million people for the Three Gorges dam. There are several train trips that provide a sense of the dizzying shifts in population, industry, business that are the China of this period. In Jia as maybe with any great filmmaker genres don't mean anything. If this is a muted gangster tale as well as a disillusioned romance it's also a haunting vision of socioeconomic upheaval. Disco seems to have come late to China: there's an intense, rousing sequence of a massive crowd dancing to the Village People's "YMCA." There is a strong thread of humor and one is the snappy dance duo who appear here later turning up with sublime absurdity to perform at a gangster elder's funeral.

All that is prelude, though essential. The part that counts is Qiao's trip to Fengjie where she's heard Bin is, and she has his number in her cell but he's not answering. Like a picaresque hero she loses everything on a boat ride but uses clever scams and deceptions - why didn't we know she had them in her? - to restore funds and force Bin, who is dodging her, to explain himself. In this most compelling and personal section Qiao, as Maggie Lee puts it, "takes charge of her life with the desperation and resourcefulness that make her an icon of the Chinese can-do spirit." .Later both she and Bin are transformed and there are more train rides, one with a mesmerizing charlatan touting his travel or tour agency, he hasn't decided what but he's seen aliens. Qiao hooks up with him for a little while. Then she and Bin are together, for longer. But nothing lasts. The sense of personal emotional saga and richness of texture could not be better.

Important in the success of this masterful film is the sometimes fatalistic score, and the European team of dp Eric Gautier, who make the transitions from DV (in Academy ratio) to Digibeta, HD video, film and Redweapon cameras seamless and suggestive.

Ash Is Purest White /Pinyin: jianghu ernu ("Sons and daughters of Jianghu"), 137 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes including Munich, Jerusalem, Toronto, New York, Vancouver, Busan, Mill Valley, London, recut for Toronto. It was screened for this review at the New York Film Festival, 10 Oct. 2018. MK2 is the producer.
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8/10
An epic Gangster tale by the Godfather of Chinese independent cinema
tharun_mohan16 May 2018
I felt privileged to watch this on its premier at the Cannes Film Festival 2018, with Zang-ke Jia and the cast. The film revolves around Qiao (Played by Tao Zhao) who is the girlfriend of Bin (Fan Liao) a mobster in a small town, who likes to believe he is a big fish in this small pond.

The film shows how the couple drift away along with their youth and optimism, captured in a three act structure, the undying love of Qiao for Bin and how it remains just as strong through the passing of time. Both Qiao and Bin are very well written characters and the cinematography is flawless, on a lighter note Carl and Biddu's 'Kung Fu Fighting' plays a vital role in this movie.

You should definitely watch this movie if you are a fan of Zhao and Liao, also watch this if you liked 'Mountains May Depart'.
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5/10
Yes, but...
jramalho26 March 2019
I really enjoyed the Directors "Still Life" (2006), but all his other movies I saw were a disappointment. I always learn a lot about Chinese society and how it evolved (for example, how western elements, from disco to ballroom dancing are blended in). But there needs to be a movie in there as well somewhere, and the (slow) story here did not transcend its obvious starting (and ending) points, and didn't even built up the characters well enough to make me care. There were some great scenes, the best of which was the strategy the lead character uses to get money at a family restaurant. It says a LOT about society in that very simple scene, but more of those moments of true brilliance were needed.
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7/10
Latest opus from Chinese writer-director Jia is worth seeking out
paul-allaer4 April 2019
"Ash Is Purest White" (2018 release from China; 148 min.) brings the story of Qiao and Bin. As the movie opens, we are informed it is "April 4, 2001", and we see Qiao making her rounds at a magic show of some sort. Later on, she goes into a club, which it turns out she and Bin are running. Bin is the leader of the jianghu gang. They seem to make a good boyfriend/girlfriend team. Then one day, as they are confronted by another gang, Bin is almost beaten to death, and it is Qiao who manages to step in when she shoots a gun in the air several times. The opposing gang scurries away, but Qiao is arrested and jailed for possession of a gun and lying about who owns the gun... What will become of Qiao in jail? and of Bin's recovery? To tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the last film from acclaimed Chinese writer-director Jia Zhanke, whose previous works includes the excellent "A Touch of Sin". With this latest film, Jia revisits many of the themes that have dominated his earlier films, and in that sense "Ash Is Purest White" is safe, almost predictable in a way. But that's like saying that Ingmar Bergman is safe and predictable for revisiting similar issues time and again in his movies. Given the film's running time of 2 1/2 hours and spanning over a decade and a half (from 2001 to 2017), just take it from me that a LOT is playing out (sorry, I don't want to spoil any further from the plot). The role of Qiao is played brilliantly by Zhao Tao (a/ka/ Mrs. Jia in real life), who of course has appeared in many of Jia's films. Much (but not all) of the movie is once again set in Jia's home province of Shanxi. And check out the scenery at the Three Gorges...

"Ash Is Purest White" premiered at last year's Cannes film festival to immediate acclaim, and it is currently rated 98% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes for a reason. I had the good fortune of catching this while I was on a recent business trip to Washington, DC, where I saw it at the Landmark West End Cinema. The Friday evening screening where I saw this at was almost (but not quite) sold out. If you are in the mood for a top quality movie from China (yes, those words do go together nicely in this case), I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater (if you can), on VOD (more likely) or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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6/10
Okay relationship drama, nothing too outstanding
Horst_In_Translation20 March 2019
Warning: Spoilers
"Jiang hu er nü" or "Ash Is Purest White" is a co-production between China, France and Japan from 2018, so still a relatively new release and this one has been a b ig player this awards season. Probably would have been an even bigger player without Shoplifters around. Anyway, it is a really long movie, runs for over 2 hours and 15 minutes and was written and directed by Zhangke Jia, one of China's most successful filmmakers these days. By the way looking at the title, I am truly surprised about the inclusion of an ü in the Chinese language from the linguistic perspective. But lets focus more on the film itself now. I think it is the first work I have seen by Jia and overall I liked it, but didn't love it I would say. There were occasional moments I strongly disliked that stayed in the mind such as when the central male character is attacked by the two young bikers with the metal rod and the female protagonist points at them as they are about to leave. Or another would be the card game. I struggled initially with the idea why either one would even play it, but I guess it had to do with dignity, but also the way they played it I mean what was that one card against another and that is the entire game that determines winner or loser? Oh well, maybe they just skipped the action before, but I doubt it. The two lead actors here are Tao Zhao and Fan Liao, but well, the former is definitely more in the center of the story here, even if there would not have been a movie without either. Early on they are lawless (and there is major mention of that on several occasions) before the man turns into a respected businessman, but only for a little while before his health causes major concerns due to years of alcohol abuse and he hits rock-bottom. The female always stays lawless. This also made her really unlikable to me because of some of her actions. Okay that shop owner in the train lied to her (and everybody else) and that does not really justify her actions, but at least slightly explains them. But what she does with the horny taxi rider is downight despicable, even if some feminists may like it. She makes him hopes, then steals his bike and eventually accuses him of trying to rape her. It is not a likable protagonist that much is safe. And that she wants to get back to her original man only explains it some some extent I would say. She did all this to meet him again and have him pick her up at the station, but then again she is really the epitome of a tough woman in general, but really hopelessly vulnerable when it comes to everything related to Bin. She goes to jail for him, loses 5 years of her life this way, and hearing that he has somebody else should really have resulted in her not caring for him anymore, but the opposite is the case. When he is in the wheelchair, eventually loses this one too, she is all there for him again, does all she can in a desperate attempt to get him back and even takes him to a smart doctor where he would not have gone otherwise, but instead probably ended in the gutter. The moment he gets healthier again, is able to walk and feels better finally he leaves her right away, which makes him probably the true antagonist from this film. I think the film got slightly weaker in the second half. All the scenes involving the gun in the first half were fairly interesting to watch in my opinion. But it is nonetheless a decent movie from beginnning to end. Moments of real greatness are rare, but I give this film a thumbs-up, even if the female lead did not impress me with her performance as much as I hoped she could. I certainly am grateful to see a Chinese movie being released here in Germany as I know the country is pretty prolific in filmmaking, but rarely make it their movies through to us past the big distance. Music and costumes are fine as well, but even if the film almost flew by given its running time, it could have been kept 15 minutes shorter maybe and increased the quality this way if they had cut out the right scenes. This is definitely not a film for everybody and yes despite spanning over 1.5 decades, not too much happens. But inbstead it does deliver as a character study, not just invoving the one character at its very center. It is inferior to Shoplifters in terms of the best Asian film from 2018 (not counting anime), but if you manage to open yourself up to its approach, you are in for a treat. I hope you manage. Go watch it.
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7/10
More than just a gangster's moll
euroGary23 October 2018
Warning: Spoilers
The programme for the 2018 London Film Festival made 'Ash is Purest White' seem a bit like a chopsocky special - gangster's moll discovers a talent for crime and - my incorrect reading between the lines suggested - takes over the mob herself. But the film is actually a deeper drama than that.

When we first meet Qiao (Zhao Tao, who has a hint of Tilda Swinton about her) she is indeed a gangster's moll, providing loving arms to mobster Bin but not afraid to pull his underlings into line. Things go badly wrong for her, however, when, following her defence of Bin when he is attacked by a group of youths, she is sentenced to prison for possession of an illegal gun. Five years later she is released, a less exuberant character and disappointed to find Bin has not waited for her. The second part of the film deals with her search for him and what happens when she finds him.

This is a film of two halves - the first part, prior to Qiao's prison sentence, does view very much like a traditional gangster flick, with its criminals pretending they have 'honour', corrupt cops and a very bloody fight scene. The second half is quieter in tone, mirroring Qiao's more subdued (if determined) personality. But I did not find the change in tone jarring because by that time I was caught up in Qiao's story. Forgiving of criminals she may be, but it is hard not to be sympathetic as, having 'done time' for Bin, she has to travel across country to discover his betrayal and begin putting her life back together. Zhao Tao gives an engaging performance and Fan Liao, as Bin, is as charming as his character allows. I enjoyed this and will probably watch it again.
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3/10
a long journey....for nothing???!
ops-5253528 February 2019
I'm not much into chinese life and culture, but this film was a rather strong dissapointment and it seems im opposite to every other reviewer, so i will be set in front of the fire squad really fast for antichinese activism. to me this was like viewing the grand opening of the Peoples Congress of China in 1978, in other words slow slower slowest, all proposals done by general acclamation, and deng treng peng to build up the corruption that has been chinas achilles joint ever since.

what i miss for sure is the language,mandarin i can eat not speak, so when the english subtitle are incoherent and missing its hard to tell what they say,and the whole drama is a big quiz. its slow and i guess typical chinese realism drama. will i recommend it, no not really.
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7/10
Slightly mediocre
e-7073321 September 2018
Positively, the expressive power of the lens language in Zhangke Jia's works has been steadily rising. This more refined detail and the high-level performance that Zhao Tao has been maintaining recently constitute the biggest attraction of this film. However, the combination of the era restoration and the theme of the drama in the past works have not been realized. Therefore, the narrative ambition to break the dimension wall seems to be more like a gimmick, and eventually leads to the disconnection of the middle part of the film.
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7/10
it still inherits the defects of literary and artistic films, such as too many plot branches
yoggwork18 February 2019
The continuation of the director's style. Several actors are hard-working but still stiff, especially the male and female main expressions and eyes are too wooden. The changes of the times have also been fully demonstrated, but at the end there is some disconnection. It may also be unexpected that people in mixed society can rely on what after middle age. However, it still inherits the defects of literary and artistic films, such as too many plot branches, slow and tedious lens, especially in the middle section. After being released from prison, several fragments are fragmented.
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10/10
This movie reaches a peak in the lens construction and atmosphere assurance.
h-0335021 September 2018
In fact, the story of Hong Kong and Taiwan has reached the academician school, which has been processed by European and American film trends of thought and sold back to Europe and the United States. There are no previous films, lens construction and trajectory, pseudo-capturing long lenses, a large number of parallax before and after the use of depth construction, sound shaping spatial changes
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10/10
One of Jia's triumphs
Chris Knipp11 October 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Gangster love in modern China

A "gangster epic," some call this film. But more than that it's a love story, heavy on the disillusionment and survival and light on the romance. Epic in feel it nonetheless is, with its panoramic vision of survival and transformation in 21st-century China. It starts in 2001 and ends somewhere near today, where people are compulsively filming each other with their smart phones. Riveting, strangely reminiscent at times of Wong Kar-wai and clearly referencing some of Jia's earlier films, especially Unknown Pleasures and Still Life (and his first foray back into gangster territory since A Touch of Sin). There are also homages to John Woo. This is a reconsideration of the romantic heroine of those two films and its two parts are set in their respective settings, the towns of Datong and Fengjie. Organic and intense yet calm, Ash shows a master filmmaker at the top of his powers.

At the center and nearly always on screen is Jia's muse Zhao Tao as Zhao Qiao, owner of a little bar (with Mahjong) where she falls for a local gangster with an air of authority, Bin (Liao Fan, of Diao Linan's neo-noir BlackCoal, Thin Ice). We don't see him doing much gangstering, but there is violence, off-screen and on. Bin talks recurrently about being Jianghu, and for the non-sinologist that seems to mean, maybe, trouble with moral values (see Maggie Lee's more informed Variety review for specifics). It sometimes may mean panache, sprezzatura; other times, duty and resignation. Anyway Bin is a provincial Datong gangster, a big fish in a small pond whose many "brothers" clearly show him much respect at the little mahjong club.

In the first scene Bin takes out a pistol, and Qiao handles it. We hear of a businessman, probably shady, but without known enemies, being murdered after a sauna by young toughs. Violence on screen is sudden: quickly two similar aspiring young tough guys attack Bin with a metal pipe and badly damage a leg. He lets them off easy when they're identified and brought to him. Turns out the hit the wrong man. Later, Bin, looking posh, is riding with Qiao in a chauffeured car and the violence ramps up. He jumps out of his car to counter-attack a crowd of thugs in a brutal and physically specific street battle where at first he is winning, then very much not, she saves his life with that pistol. They both go to jail, but he gets out years sooner. When Qiao is released he isn't at the prison gate to meet her. She begins an odyssey in search of him.

This man and woman are more completely at the center than the figures in Jia's 2007 Still Life but this new film refers to the same great upheavals, particularly the decline of a mine industry and the displacement of 1.4 million people for the Three Gorges dam. There are several train trips that provide a sense of the dizzying shifts in population, industry, business that are the China of this period. In Jia as maybe with any great filmmaker genres don't mean anything. If this is a muted gangster tale as well as a disillusioned romance it's also a haunting vision of socioeconomic upheaval. Disco seems to have come late to China: there's an intense, rousing sequence of a massive crowd dancing to the Village People's "YMCA." There is a strong thread of humor and one is the snappy dance duo who appear here later turning up with sublime absurdity to perform at a gangster elder's funeral.

All that is prelude, though essential. The part that counts is Qiao's trip to Fengjie where she's heard Bin is, and she has his number in his cell but he's not answering. Like a picaresque hero she loses everything on a boat ride but uses clever scams and deceptions - why didn't we know she had them in her? - to restore funds and force Bin, who is dodging her, to explain himself. In this most compelling and personal section Qiao, as Maggie Lee puts it, "takes charge of her life with the desperation and resourcefulness that make her an icon of the Chinese can-do spirit." .Later both she and Bin are transformed and there are more train rides, one with a mesmerizing charlatan touting his travel or tour agency, he hasn't decided what but he's seen aliens. Qiao hooks up with him for a little while. Then she and Bin are together, for longer. But nothing lasts. The sense of personal emotional saga and richness of texture could not be better.

Important in the success of this masterful film is the sometimes fatalistic score, and the European team of dp Eric Gautier, who make the transitions from DV (in Academy ratio) to Digibeta, HD video, film and Redweapon cameras seamless and suggestive.

Ash Is Purest White / jianghú érnu ("Sons and daughters of Jianghu"), 137 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes including Munich, Jerusalem, Toronto, New York, Vancouver, Busan, Mill Valley, London, recut for Toronto. It was screened for this review at the New York Film Festival, 10 Oct. 2018. MK2 is the producer.
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10/10
Very good movie
willwa22 September 2018
I like the director and all his movies. This one is the best I think.
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10/10
A must-see among Chinese Movie
yuzhuowang21 September 2018
Never have I seen such a touching movie which reflects Chinese figures so vividly.
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6/10
disappointed
c-2448310 November 2018
With the vivid development of the chapter-style plot (self-indulgence), the role of the coincidence of the character is enough to ignore the ridicule and laughter of my own physiological reasons
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8/10
China-made Gangster Movie.
chiumt28 March 2019
Movie about life in the gangs in China. From the perspective of a woman. It is a love story. A bit slow-moving, but evocative. That is the main aim of the film, I think.
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A decent romance movie
TheBigSick21 October 2018
The three-act narrative structure is very clear and the second act is particularly interesting, full of sly humor. Liao Fan's stunning performance just proves again that he is the best actor of his generation. Zhao Tao's acting is good as always. The film succeeds particularly in terms of character development. The result is hard-hitting melodrama that reflects lots about modern Chinese society.
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