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  Ash is Purest White Stand By Your Man
Year: 2018
Director: Jia Zhangke
Stars: Zhao Tao, Liao Fan, Diao Yi'nan, Casper Liang, Liu Min, Li Xuan, Zheng Xu, Dong Zijian, Ding Jiali, Feng Jiamei, Kang Kang, Wenqian Yuan, Zhang Yibai, Zhang Yi
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Qiao (Zhao Tao) is what you might call a gangster's moll: she is devoted to crime boss Bin (Liao Fan), who has big plans for this mining town they live in, mostly because it is suffering in the Chinese economic climate as the millennium has finally arrived. With that in mind, he does not see a community about to decline into a useless depression, but a place that could be redeveloped, built upon with his new ideas for a revival that naturally would see him making a great profit from that scheme. Through it all, Qiao will be by his side, providing love and care, there really will be no better time to be alive - or so they hope. But life has a habit of sabotaging grand plans such as this...

Ash is the Purest White, or Jiang hu er nĂ¼ as it was known as in director-writer Jia Zhangke's native China, was one of his epics that took a long look at the nation he was a citizen of and surmised that things could be better, but he was not about to give up on it yet. A Touch of Sin was probably his most famous work in that regard, and in its way this was just as bleak when you came down to it, but the resilience of the human spirit, or at least some humans' spirit, was cause for some solace even as things looked unlikely for hope being able to prosper. In effect, it was a tragedy, seemingly for one character who we followed from the year 2000 to the year 2017 into utter dejection.

Not a barrel of laughs then, though there were moments where a sense of humour was discernible, such as early on when we see the townsfolk at a disco strutting their respective funky stuff to YMCA by The Village People, suggesting first, some culture is universal, and second, we should hang onto that culture which makes us happy since there was so much in this vale of tears that will have the opposite effect that it would be overwhelming if we did not have the power of, say, cheap music to give us a boost. At two-and-a-quarter hours, there was plenty of misery to be soothed by the character of Qiao's favourite tunes, as events conspire against her to prove she has been so wrong.

Wrong to put her faith in Bin, essentially, and a pivotal scene before the halfway mark, after it has been established how strong the love they have for one another is, sees Qiao standing by her man just as a new breed of gangster steps up to make a mockery of all his dreams; no matter how self-serving they may have been, those plans would have improved things for a lot of people, including the heroine's ailing father who is one of many hit hard by the economic crisis. There was a sense of the director fending off feelings of futility about the future from the privileged position of knowing how his central couple's relationship will play out, and translating that to the future of anyone in China and indeed the rest of the world, which does have the effect of a storm cloud of defeatism glowering over proceedings.

You would like to think that Jia was more confident that optimism was not a laughable way of seeing the world, leaving you searching Ash is Purest White for glimmers of hope that may or may not be present: certainly that last image did not leave much room for looking on the bright side for there may now be no bright side at all. This kind of grim outlook was very in keeping with the spirit of the age, in the cinema that was released in the arthouses at any rate, and you could find yourself rejecting it as simply giving up when there was a case that we could endure to a better tomorrow, but if you wanted a wallow in other people's misery, particularly if it reflected your own, pictures such as these could be judged as the default setting for the thinkers of the world. But did this appeal to the emotions? Here, the answer was a tentative yes, for while Bin was not much of a prize as it turned out, Qiao was a lot more sympathetic, despite her choices, than you might expect, realising she has wasted her existence devoting it to the unworthy, but having little chance of solving her problems now. All that and a UFO, too. Music by Lim Giong.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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