Have you ever sleep-walked through life before? The lingering feeling of time and cosmic space brushing through your body, as you float in an endless cycle of life before your final hours? In Jia Zhangke’s latest, this particular feeling is heavily used to convey tragedy in Ash is Purest White. Just like Zhangke’s previous work, he utilizes Chinese politics and affairs to drive his stories. The result? Something utterly poetic and appealing.
The traditional Yakuza-like gang groups in Asia have always been portrayed in film and television as malicious syndicates with plenty of disheartening intent. However, the depiction of ruthless, emotionless killers does not appear anywhere in Ash is Purest White. Going for a more character driven approach, each layer of set up and dialogue works, due to Zhangke’s commitment in developing tone, character, and emotional promise. We’re invested in this crime underground, viewing the personal lives of these criminals in their own respective syndicates, plotting and relentlessly observing their enemies very moves. Like in Mountains May Depart, Zhangke uses various perspectives from different characters in all of his films, in order to develop environment and narrative/emotional investment. It takes a true master to perfectly nail their messages and themes in one continuous and consistent film.
Albeit it’s incredible and stellar set up and emotional payoff, the one large downside of Ash is Purest White is it’s occasionally distant relationship between the film medium and narrative. Their’s countless of beautifully directed sequences that do not aid, nor add to the plot at hand, and instead add more unnecessary conflict and resolution to things that didn’t need to be their to begin with. For what is a pretty straight forward narrative, it’s tough to sit through an 150 minute film of this caliber, without feeling a bit restless and tedious. Unlike Mountains May Depart, Ash Is Purest White did not need to be as long as it was. Zhangke should have focused on one specific direction, instead of relying on a combustion of several different clustered ideas to form his film.
Seeing a new Jia Zhangke film on the silver screen is always exciting to experience. Viewing his various politically charged observations on modern-day China makes for some intriguing and thought-provoking discourse. Ash is Purest White is another worthy entry into his catalog of extensive and thoughtful work. While not one of his finest pieces, Zhangke has made another detailed and beautifully realized piece on ethics, relationships, and time.
Cohen Media Group has Planned A 2019 North American Release For Ash Is Purest White
*Editor’s Note: Zhao Tao is awesome in this film, and the constant usage of YMCA never get’s old. Suck on that Minions!