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Latest opus from Chinese writer-director Jia is worth seeking out
"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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