Ash Is Purest White
A gangster’s moll weathers modern China’s tumult.
Chinese director Jia Zhangke “specializes in small, involved tales that somehow unscroll into broader truths, often of the most withering sort,” said Anthony Lane in The New Yorker. His latest is in part a love story about two small-time criminals, but he has an Émile Zola–like gift for providing an X-ray of contemporary China every time he chooses to follow a character. Here, his wife and longtime collaborator, Zhao Tao, plays the savvy girlfriend of a two-bit gangster in a dying coal town, and when he’s attacked by rivals, she fires a gun in the air to break up the melee and winds up serving a five-year prison sentence for her trouble. “Zhao is magnificent throughout,” said Raphael Abraham in the Financial Times. “With her smile she can project warmth or daggers,” and she emerges from prison to discover that her man (Liao Fan) and fast-changing China itself have moved on without her. To track her ex down, she takes up grifting, generating by far the movie’s strongest section: a journey across a country in exuberant upheaval, said Richard Lawson in VanityFair.com. Though the third act can’t sustain the energy, the film remains “an arresting and ambitious portrait of a nation—how it is now and how it so recently was.”
Claudette Barius/Universal Pictures, Tara Violet Niami/Focus Features, Cohen Media Group ■