Ash Is Purest White movie cast: Zhao Tao, Liao Fan
Ash Is Purest White movie director: Jia Zhangke
Ash Is Purest White movie rating: Three stars
Ash Is Purest White is the star-crossed love story of Bin and Qiao, a gangster and his moll. But it is not your standard bang-bang shoot-outs-in-the-triads kind of movie. It is, more successfully, an elegiac look at a China that used to be.
Bin (Fan) runs a mah-jongg parlour in Datong, a small town whose coal mine-led economy is dying. His lover Qiao (Tao), her lovely face framed by a glossy black bob, is his helper and confidant. Here gather the men who banter and bicker and whose serious differences are papered over by Bin, who dispenses a rough but fair sense of justice.
A shift in the old order is imminent. It comes from a push to shut down towns like Datong, and to create huge dams, unmindful of the human cost. Displacement is terrifying. Its fear is equally potent. It’s almost inevitable that both Bin and Qiao will be forced to abdicate their pole positions. Both are jailed after an incident, in which she takes the fall for no fault of hers, and saves him from a tougher, longer incarceration.
The film spans eighteen years, and we see the two, worn and tired, but still tenuously together. She’s got lines on her unmade face, but her will is undimmed. He is not able to walk, but his ego is intact. And when finally he struggles to his feet, he chooses not to stay.
It feels like a blow, and would have been more bitter if the narrative hadn’t slipped in between. Just like an ancient country, with its courtly old-fashioned mah-jongg parlours, has had to make way for huge industrial wastelands, and modern gambling dens, the heart has also calcified. At least as far as the man is concerned.
Fan plays his part well. But this film is owned by Tao, the director’s muse and wife. While it may not be as effective as some of Zhanke’s others (A Touch Of Sin, Mountains May Depart) in its best portions, it does manage to speak to us. Tao’s face is a map of brilliant, wordless emotion. The question she is left with – when love leaves, what is left behind—she leaves for us. To think and to feel.