About the film
Nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival 2018, Jia Zhang-Ke has created a work that’s only possible with the maturity of time and clarity gained by wisdom through experience. The film opens in 2001 and closes in 2018, chronicling the broken romance of two lovers in the jianghu (underworld mob). As their story unfolds, we also witness a new China emerge.
Fans of Jia Zhang-Ke will be delighted to find elements from his previous films, which gain new meaning in the context of Ash Is Purest White. Actors Zhao Tao, regular collaborator and off-screen partner of the director, and Liao Fan also give their career best performances as the lovers Qiao and Bin.
Jia Zhang-Ke on the jianghu
Excerpt from an interview with Tony Rayns (April 2018)
The mystique of the jianghu is a very important part of Chinese culture. Many underworld societies were formed in ancient China,rooted in particular industries or regions. They were networks which transcended family relationships and local clan identities, providing support and a way of life for lower-class people. The most common spiritual symbol of jianghu culture is Lord Guan. He represents loyalty and righteousness, the core values of the jianghu.
After the communist victory in 1949, China’s underworld societies gradually disappeared. The characters in ASH IS PUREST WHITE are not gangs in the old sense. They came into existence after the “reform and opening-up” movement of the late 1970s and inherited the violent legacy of the “Cultural Revolution” years. They learnt their morals and protocols from the Hong Kong gangster movies of the 1980s. They developed their own distinctive ways of handling relationships as a way of surviving and helping each other amid all the drastic social changes that China was going through.
The jianghu is a world of adventure and a world of unique emotions. I’ve always been interested in jianghu love stories in which the characters fear neither love nor hate. The story of this film spans the years between 2001 and 2018, years of enormous social upheaval. People’s traditional values and the ways they live have changed beyond recognition in these years. And yet the jianghu clings to its own values and codes of conduct and functions in its own way.