4. Ash Is Purest White
Release date: March 15
Cast: Zhao Tao, Liao Fan, Feng Xiaogang, Xu Zheng
Director: Jia Zhangke (Mountains May Depart)
Why it’s great: It’s not uncommon for a grand romance to unfold over the years against a fraught, ever-evolving historical backdrop. At first glance, Ash Is Purest White, the new film from Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke, looks like a familiar epic, a sweeping tale of sex and violence between a gangster and his lover, grafted onto the tricky dynamics of 21st century China.
When we first meet Qiao (Tao) and Bin (Fan), they are fellow travelers in a seedy, small-time criminal underworld, one where “YMCA” dances can break out at crowded clubs and thrilling fist-fights can erupt in city streets, like in a Hong Kong action movie from the ’90s. But as the two grow apart, both geographically and emotionally, Ash Is Purest White more fully becomes Qiao’s story and the movie takes on its own haunted, discursive tone.
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While examining matters of loyalty, sacrifice, and disillusionment, Zhangke arrives at emotional truths that aren’t always spoken by the characters. Instead, he allows his actors, particularly the incredible Tao, to embody these ideas with the smallest movements and the subtlest gestures. The tensions and complications of history weigh them down, but that never prevents the film from taking flight.