Ash is Purest White (China)



15 March 2019| Comments Off on Ash is Purest White (China)     by Sean Chavel


If there was ever a film I wanted a graphic sex scene in it is the Chinese film Ash is Purest White (Mandarin, in English subtitles) between Qiao (Tao Zhao) and Bin (Liao Fan). Not only is that scene denied so we can observe the heat or tenderness, but many other such scenes are missing where we can observe any pleasure between them, or pleasantness, although an early nightclub scene displays chemistry. The same scene also features a handgun that falls out of Bin’s pocket. Bin is a small-time mobster with numerous shady characters surrounding him. Qiao comes off as a rather calm and carefree woman, with a father who has recently lost his decades long job working the mines. They all live in a poorer community called Datong.

Early on, one of Bin’s mentors within the organized crime unit is stabbed to death and word is out that a gang of kids that did it. We expect a big hunt. A rustle of other violence is circulating the area, and Bin is the target of an assault. He explains to Qiao why he must need a gun, and he teaches her how to use it.

“Ash” takes a good time developing its early sections. What transpires is a turbulent drama that unfolds over the course of 17 years. We think we are going to get a violent gangster drama of small time hoods in a desperate town, but what we really get principally is a relationship drama between the two leads. Director Jia Zhangke (“Mountains May Depart”) makes the focus of the story about her.

A pivotal scene has Bin attacking a number of assailants in a public area. Zhao is still a novice but she rises from the vehicle and fires her gun into the air. She is caught, and during her Q&A with authorities, she insists that the unlicensed gun is hers and not Bin’s. From there, we start recognizing a pattern in Zhao where she lies and abets for Bin under any circumstance. Even when he runs from her to take on a new life, she assumes herself back into his life at the expense of every other choice that would be better for her. It becomes clear that “Ash” is a tale of old habits die hard. When a relatively wholesome opportunity comes up for Zhao when she meets a kinder man on a train, she resists any positive change.

“Ash” never explicates Bin’s day to day operations or gives us satisfying answers as to what his rivals’ motivations were. But as a study of one woman’s stubbornness, Zhangke’s film takes hold. What makes it remarkable is Tao Zhao’s performance as a beauty who grows into both bitterness as well as a fiercer survivalist, but all along still retains obstinate loyalty to the one man who is bad for her. In 17 years, I cannot see the tenderness. By the end, I believe Zhangke left the tenderness out of the story deliberately.

141 Minutes. Unrated. Mandarin in English subtitles.         


Film Cousins: “Shanghai Triad” (1995, China); “Breaking the Waves” (1996, Denmark); “Clean” (2004, France). “Mountains May Depart” (2015, China).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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