Ash is Purest White, dir. Jia Zhang-ke, China 2019, 136 min., Mandarin with English subtitles
Qiao (Zhao Tao) lives in a depressed mining town. Her boyfriend, Bin (Liao Fan), is a dashing gangster who works for a corrupt property developer. After his boss is murdered, Bin ascends in rank within the Jianghu (a criminal brotherhood) and finds himself vulnerable to rival hostilities. When Bin and Qiao are arrested, she makes a fateful decision: she takes the blame to save Bin. After five years in prison, she emerges to find her world has transformed. Her former associates have moved into legitimate businesses, while Bin has found another woman. Qiao seeks revenge, but, more importantly, she searches for a new identity in a changing China – a search that will take her to Three Gorges Dam and toward a powerful revelation.
Selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Chinese film director and screenwriter Jia Zhang-ke employs gangster film conventions to deliver a sweeping, melodramatic, and very personal reflection on modern China.