Reviews - Ash is Purest White
Ash is Purest White
Reviewed By Stephen Pye
The compelling part of Sunday's film is easy to appreciate. Here we have essentially a “mob” movie which explores the criminal underbelly of China. The protagonists are criminals, the world in which we meet them a tatty gangland of smoke-fugged mah-jong parlours in the northern city of Datong. It starts in 2001. Ballroom dancers strut through a funeral , the kind of casual incongruity at which Jia excels. The film is one of love and betrayal. In a brutal hold up the gang-leader Bin is rescued by his gun-wielding girl Qiao. She receives a five year prison term for possession of a weapon only to find on her release that Bin has deserted her for someone else. We move then from 2001 to 2006 where Qiao, ever resourceful, picks up her life again. We then find her back in Datong in 2018 reunited with Bin (now disabled by a stroke). The film ends in the same mahjong parlour, seedy and dilapidated still, amidst a transformed mega city that typifies 21st century china.
The film rushes by in 140 minutes as we are transported by river-boats and trains old and new. So much wonder is conjured beyond the plot whipped up by the Chinese economy; the stellar performance of Zhao (the directors wife), the insta-futuristic landscapes. The transformation of China has occurred and in the end is more compelling than Qiao's love for Bin. But indirectly and allegorically Jia is telling us that the modern economic miracle is somehow ephemeral and could break down like any human relationship, and at it's core is maybe something less sustainable than the unchanging mahjong parlour. Towards the end Bin asks Qiao “am I important”, “if not you, what is?” she replies.
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