Ash is Purest white is a Chinese drama film directed by Jia Zhangke. It was screened at MIFF on Sun 19 Aug 2018 and was nominated for the Palme d ‘Or at the 71st Cannes Film Festival.
The film tells the story of a gang leader named Bin in Datong, Shanxi Province, who was involved in a violent incident. Her girlfriend Qiao took out Bin’s gun and fired a warning shot to protect Bin. Qiao was sentenced to five years in prison for protecting him by claiming that the gun belongs to her. After getting out of jail, Qiao came to find Bin wanting to start again, but she failed. After a period, Bin was unable to walk due to stroke, Qiao took the responsibility to take care of Bin. In the end, Bin left her.
There is a strong personal style in films directed by Jia Zhangke. Jia tends to focus on civil life. In this film, he set the whole story in Mainland China at the turn of the century, when the mainland was buffeted by economic shocks. People’s modality was tortured and collapsed due to this. The Chinese name for this film means men and women in ‘Jianghu’. ‘Jianghu’ is a non-physical concept in Chinese culture. It was the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zhou who used the word ‘Jianghu’ firstly to refer to a contrary concept to the government. With society changing, people use it more to mean the working environment of gangsters, and the core of ‘Jianghu’ is morality and justice. This film put the most weight on interpreting this core by shaping the heroine Qiao.
Setting Qiao as a lead line, the film described various ‘Jianghuers’ she met. Almost all the characters are in the moral and legal gray area. Among those ‘Jianghuers’, Qiao is the existence which follows the morality of ‘Jianghu’ most. Bin led her into ‘Jianghu’, but with experiencing disability and frustration, Bin finally left her alone. Qiao gave almost her everything and love to Bin. By describing the love between Qiao and Bin, Jia Zhangke presented the complicated ‘Jianghu’ in his mind. Betrayal and ruthlessness of Bin let the audience doubt whether ‘Jianghu’ is dangerous and perilous. However, Qiao’s love shows the audience the tenderness and morality in ‘Jianghu’.
From this film, we can notice that the director put most weight on Qiao, letting this film be a feminism film. Feminism films ‘mirror women’s growing role in public life’ (Press & Liebes 2016, p.270). When Hollywood set a feminist character, they may likely create a ‘remarkably wealthy, beautiful and sexy’ lady to establish strong persona of the character(Press & Liebes 2016, p.270). This is controversial to some degree. Jia did not focus on the performance of Qiao’s sexual power, but presented Qaio’s tenacity and perseverance. It is believed that Jia made this feminism production to meet contemporary film industry trends and female reviewers of Cannes Film Festival.
Press, A, & Liebes, T 2016, ‘Feminism and Hollywood: Why the backlash?’, Communication Review, Oct-Dec2016, Vol. 19 Issue 4, p267-279. 13p.