Ash Is Purest White
Dir. Jia Zhangke. 2018, 136 mins. Digital projection. With Zhao Tao, Liao Fan. In Chinese (Mandarin) with English subtitles. With his modern-day wuxia 一丝罪孽 (2013), mainland Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke abruptly changed lanes from the realist aesthetics that had established his bonafides, in works such as Platform 和 Still Life, to a more mixed mode where realism infuses and enlivens the traditional structures of genre and melodrama. Ash Is Purest White represents the third, and perhaps finest film in this register, a saga of love and betrayal among the Triads that becomes a historical epic of the birth of 21st-century China. Rendered with the plaintive sweep of a classical Chinese landscape and built around a ferocious performance from Zhao Tao, Jia’s long-time leading lady, Ash Is Purest White reaffirms its director’s place at the forefront of world cinema.