Jia Zhang-ke’s latest is an often glorious drama about how one woman’s journey from self-sacrificial moll to avenging criminal echoes her country’s embrace of capitalism
With Ash is Purest White, the always surprising, habitually envelope-pushing film-maker Jia Zhang-ke gives us a complex romantic tragedy from China’s aspirational gangster-classes. And there’s an eerie futurist sheen: a miasma of visionary strangeness that gives a distinct glow to the social-realist grit.
As so often with this director, the turn of the century is the key moment — when China began to embrace capitalism, competition, rapid expansion and the Westernised status symbols like smartphones. In the year 2001, we see people dancing to the Village People’s YMCA at a party. As with the rousing rendition of the Pet Shop Boys’ Go West in his previous film, Mountains May Depart, it is a presentiment of that brave new world to come.