Ash Is Purest White
When Qiao (Zhao Tao) is released from prison after five years for protecting and lying for her gangster boyfriend, Bin (Liao Fan), she emerges to find the world she once knew gone – swept away in the tides of a changing China. With her old friends now working in legitimate jobs and Bin in a new relationship, Qiao is left to negotiate for herself where she belongs in this new world. The latest feature by Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke, Ash Is Purest White is a beautifully written and elegantly told portrait of two characters lost in time in an odyssey that spans 17 years.
From the movie’s opening moments it’s made clear that Zhao is undoubtedly the star of the show, and from the moment she walks into frame her dynamic presence immediately captivates, filling the screen with her vibrant personality without the need for many words to be spoken. Throughout the entirety of the runtime, the actress is able to convey so many complex emotions through the subtlest of gestures – one scene in a karaoke bar is particularly applaudable – to paint her character as a fully-realised, hopelessly lost individual.
Liao Fan also gives a highly commendable performance as Bin. Though he doesn’t nearly have as much to do as his co-star, he nevertheless visibly throws his all into every line and action he’s given, especially towards the final act where his character becomes more involved in events. However, despite the leads having a strong rapport onscreen, there isn’t nearly enough time spent exploring the pair’s relationship for it to have the emotional payoff required, which consequently makes for a rather lacklustre and anticlimactic finale to Qiao’s otherwise pitch-perfect character arc.
Though the narrative revolves around the lives of the two central characters, the main meat of the film is found within its smaller details that point to a country undergoing change and a generation holding on to what’s familiar to them. Qiao’s journey through this premise makes for some truly riveting viewing, but even this is diluted slightly by huge time leaps that omit huge development of her character. Her stint in prison, for instance, a pivotal point in the story, is condensed to only a mere few minutes.
Beautifully elegant in its presentation, Ash Is Purest White is an intricate tale of love, loss and change upheld by two outstanding performances.
Ash Is Purest White is released in select cinemas on 26th April 2019.
Watch the trailer for Ash Is Purest White here: