The transfixing Zhao Tao plays a tough, resilient woman in love with a small-time hoodlum in Jia Zhang-ke’s epic gangland romance, set against China’s relentless modernisation in the 21st century.
Jia Zhang-ke, China’s pre-eminent contemporary filmmaker, continues his blessed run with this blazing jianghu drama starring his faithful partner Zhao Tao, a force to be reckoned with.
“Ash Is Purest White subtly distills nearly two decades of gradual social change into the story of a small-town gangster and his moll. Guo Bin (Liao Fan), a member of the jianghu underworld, runs a mahjong parlor… Bin’s girlfriend, Qiao (Zhao Tao)… more than holds her own in this masculine enclave, and her own belief in the brotherly codes of the jianghu… runs startlingly deep.
When Bin is attacked by local thugs, it is Qiao who fatefully intervenes and pays the steepest price. From there, the film undergoes a series of thrilling narrative reversals… grounding its portrait of long-term social and technological flux with the kind of gutsy, lovelorn heroine who would be right at home in a 1940s Hollywood melodrama…
[Jia’s film] is fierce, gripping, emotionally generous and surprisingly funny... Meanwhile, even those accustomed to seeing Zhao… might be taken aback by the depths of her acting here… with the richest, most subtly complex performance she’s given to date.” — Justin Chang, LA Times
“Clever, subversive, and hugely ambitious… A quixotic and profound statement on… life in 21st-century China.” — Sam C. Mac, Slant