By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Jia Zhangke has been making movies for decades, but his last three films have propelled him into a higher echelon of international talent, and arguably have established him as China’s premier old master.
The only one not making embarrassing attempts at crossbreeding borderline propaganda, anyway.
Quiao is a ganster’s moll, who pulls a gun to protect her man and is jailed five years for it. She is released to a world she barely recognizes, and sets out to discover why he was not waiting for her when she exited, like he damn well should have been.
Zhangke, as masters do, has made us a film that takes us on a journey back through his own career, his wife’s (Zhao Tao, the lead here and oft his muse), and through China’s rapid modernization that has very nearly exactly corresponded to the arc of that career.
The film starts in a 2001 that doesn’t feel overdifferent from the late 70s music being played in the club scenes (“YMCA” ftw), and Zhangke and Tao deftly sketch living on the top of the low-level criminal heap in a country on the precipice of economic change. Younger, hungrier predators are circling, however, and when they finally pounce it’s who takes the fall.
She does cut the most intimidating figure.
Tao is a stunning lead, with both a facial and talent resemblance to Meryl Streep, and she communicates so much of her sense of bewilderment, betrayal, and growing determination on that remarkable face. The world Zhangke surrounds her with is tragic, epic, beautiful, even funny in the strange juxtapositions rapid transitions to capitalism will foster. What’s capitalism but a form of more organized crime after all?
The plot starts losing a bit of momentum towards the end, perhaps because it assumes we care more about the boyfriend than we probably do. With a performance as towering and a character as wronged as Tao’s, it’s a bit hard to empathize with his side of things.
Ash is Purest White firmly establishes Jia Zhangke and Zhao Tao as the preeminent royalty of the Chinese film world. A career summary perhaps, but hopefully not a finale.
Ash is Purest White (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Abbie tries and fails to accomplish something with his grabber
Take a Drink: every time you’re reminded he’s playing Pac Man
Take a Drink: for every late 90s reference
Take a Drink: every time Abbie asks somebody for help
Do a Shot: every time the 3D glasses go on