Hollywood has had it’s eye turned toward China for a while now, but American audiences haven’t taken to Chinese films with the same fervor. It isn’t for a lack of quality cinema, as Zhangke Jia’s latest displays. The director made a huge splash with Still Life in 2006, and he has been consistently winning over critics with every film since.
Ash Is Purest White is an interesting movie that tells a massive story through the perspective of Qiao. She’s a young woman from a mining village who has found herself dating a gangster and living the life of a jianghu. Very early in the film we see her in the back of a club watching her boyfriend Bin play mahjong when someone pulls a gun out during an argument-she doesn’t flinch. She doesn’t like guns, but she’s certainly not appalled by it.
Bin is working for a man that’s selling villas in Datong. After this man is killed, Bin is attacked. Fearing for her boyfriend’s life, Qiao finds his gun and fires it into the air to break up the melee. Due to the strict laws on illegal firearms, she spends five years in prison.
Upon release, she heads back to find Bin and begin their life together, unfortunately Bin has moved on and has an old friend tell her that he does not wish to see her. This heartbreak leads the film in a new direction, as Qiao goes searching for Bin to hear this news directly from him.
As she finds herself in a China she doesn’t really know, Jia shows us the changing country. Here we see the parallels between China and the U.S.A. Jobs that communities have been built around are vanishing, old buildings are being torn down for condos and retail, and people are moving away from the rural areas and into the bigger cities.
It’s in the universal that Jia uses the medium best. The great beauty of the volcano in the hills juxtaposed against the dingy, dark inner city echoes the beauty of the love Qiao has for Bin and the darkness she goes through when that is taken away. That is something that touches every part of the world, not just China.
Ash Is Purest White is only one of many great Asian films playing in Chicago over the next few weeks. While unrelated, starting on April 5th at Landmark Century Cinema and AMC River East means that Ash is hitting right in the middle of Asian Pop-Up Cinema. The following Asian films are also coming in April to various venues in Chicago: Up The Mountain (April 6th at The Heritage Museum of Asian Art), Four Springs (April 7th at The Heritage Museum Of Asian Art), Circle Of Steel (April 12th at Columbia College Of Chicago), The Pension (April 16th at AMC River East 21), Memories Of A Dead End (April 17th at AMC River East 21), Memories Of My Body (April 23rd at AMC River East 21), and Tracey (April 24th at AMC River East).