Ash Is Purest White-
In 2001, in the impoverished Chinese industrial city of Datong, a young dancer named Qiao falls in love with Bin, a local mobster. During a fight between rival gangs, Qiao fires a shot to protect Bin and subsequently gets sentenced to five years in prison. Upon her release, Qiao goes looking for Bin to try and start all over again.
Qiao is in love with Bin, a local mobster.
During a fight between rival gangs, she fires a gun to protect him. Qiao gets five years in prison for this act of loyalty. Upon her release, she goes looking for Bin to pick up where they left off.
Ash is the Purest Whitest Movie Trailer
While I was editing my earlier films UNKNOWN PLEASURES (2002) and STILL LIFE (2006), both of which starred Zhao Tao, I simplified the storylines by cutting some of her love scenes.
But when I went back to look at those deleted scenes, the two characters she’d played somehow blended together in my mind. In my imagination, this woman was born and raised in my hometown, a coal-mining region in north-west China. She was named Qiaoqiao (“Qiao” for short) and fell in love with a jianghu type. Their love and torment would open the story. By 2006 they are both middle-aged and the man leaves for the Three Gorges area. She follows him there, but their relationship is broken. Everything that would happen from then on gave free rein to my imagination.
When I look back at the character Zhao Tao played in UNKNOWN PLEASURES, I see purity, simplicity and unconditional love. Yet when I look back at the STILL LIFE character, I see complexity, sadness and displays that camouflage true feelings. Time has changed the way she looks, but cinema records the way that time has shaped her. The deleted scenes inspired me to imagine what would have become of this woman – and the man she once loved – in the present day.
I borrowed the film’s Chinese title JIANGHU ERNÜ (“Sons and Daughters of the Jianghu”) from the last project of Fei Mu, the Chinese film master who was active in the 1930s and 1940s and who is best known for SPRING IN A SMALL TOWN (1948). The script which Fei Mu wrote was later filmed by Zhu Shilin; the film had the English title THE SHOW MUST GO ON. It’s a story set in a touring circus. My film has nothing to do with that story, but I loved the Chinese title. The Chinese word “Ernü” (“Sons and Daughters”) connotes men and women who dare to love and hate.
On the other hand, “Jianghu” (literally “Rivers and lakes”, but it’s hard to capture the real meaning in English) conjures up a world of dramatic emotions, not to mention a world of real dangers. When you put the two words together, the title evokes people who dare to challenge the mainstream and people who live by the morality of kindness and enmity, love and hatred.
That Chinese title almost says it all. The couple in the film live on the margins of society. They survive by challenging the orthodox social order. I didn’t set out to defend them, rather to empathize with their predicament. It reminds me in some ways of the first decade of my career, when it was risky to make films expressing one’s true self and truths about society. So I threw myself into writing the script as if I were writing about my own emotional journeys: my lost youth and my fantasy about the future. To live, to love and to be free.
The opens in China at the outset of the 21st century and closes in 2018. I’ve always been interested in stories with a long time-span: time holds the secrets of life, stories and experiences.
The jianghu belongs to those who have no home. In the first part of the film, jianghu is the conflicts between rival underworld groups in Shanxi. It’s also the sense of crisis felt by the older generation in the face of the new generation. And it’s a story such as you might find in westerns, set in desolate landscapes, in cold weather, around old coal mines. The second part of the film is set in the Three Gorges area on the Yangtze River, where the dams under construction will cause entire towns to disappear. Our character Qiao is first deceived, then deceives others: she uses the survival skills she learnt in prison to negotiate the margins of this society. The final part returns us to Shanxi, where the male protagonist Bin sets off on a new journey precisely because he needs the jianghu – the places that will bring his inner drama to life. This is also where Qiao elects to stay, seeking her own kind of excitements.
There is one place in the film which Qiao never gets to, and that’s Xinjiang in China’s deep north-west. Maybe everyone has a place like that, a place they never reach, not because it’s too far away but because it’s so hard to begin a new life. We cannot break away from our emotional ties, from the loves, memories and routines which prevent us from flying high. These bonds are like the gravity which ties us to this planet and prevents us from going off into space. An emotional gravity fixes us in social relationships, and that makes it impossible to walk away freely.And when we do struggle to break free, the result reflects our human
I now have 48 years of life experiences, and I want to use them to tell a love story set in a contemporary China which has gone through epic and dramatic transformations. It makes me feel that I’ve lived that way myself – and that I still do.
Jia Zhang-Ke (April 2018)
ASH IS PUREST WHITE – DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT
Thanks to Cannes Film Festival 2018