Ash Is Purest White presents a bold and strong woman who comes out of trouble on her own
Bin (Fan Liao), the mob boss, and Qiao (Tao Zhao), his girlfriend, have come to a place from where they can have a clear view of a volcano. Qiao enquires Bin about the purity of volcanic ash. This brief scene, which is both serene and thoughtful, is so brilliantly placed by Director Jia Zhangke. It explains the metaphorical title of this movie. More than the explosive eruption of a volcano, it is the softness of ash that is felt in this movie. Ash Is Purest White (Jiang hu er nü), which tells the story of a relationship between a gangster and his mistress over a long period of time, does not have too much of violence per se. It has more of separation, loss, betrayal, sacrifice, and despondency.
The film creates a nexus between ‘travel’ and ‘change’. Whether it’s on a bus, a car, a motorcycle or even a ferry, the characters are always on the move. You feel the brilliance of Jia Zhangke as you sense the change in the life of characters each of those movements brings with them. For instance, Bin and Qiao are travelling by car and suddenly a brutal fight ensues. (Giong Lim’s background score, with just drum beats, stupendously increases the intensity attached to the scene). The incident spells the separation of Bin and Qiao. And, it’s a motorcycle ride that allows them to meet each other again. In another scene, Qiao’s father is standing on the roadside as she boards the bus. He looks perplexed and distressed (His sad countenance touches you). This is a brief scene. But, later, you realise that this is also the last time she saw her father before his death.
You admire Qiao as a person. She is the embodiment of great mental strength. She is not only strongly committed to Bin but also ready to sacrifice her life for his well-being. In spite of that, it hurts you to see that she doesn’t get the same love in return. She is left all alone and confronts the hurdles all by herself. (In a scene, she expresses a great shock after finding out that her money has been stolen by a woman. When she goes out and enquires people about that woman, it moves you to see her dejection. Even a guy, considerable force, brushing his shoulders against hers, make you feel for her.). It’s the Tao Zhao’s terrific performance that makes the Qiao character even more powerful. Fan Liao isn’t far behind. He gives the Bin character the three shades – Style, meanness, and loneliness. He is the leader of the pack at first. He, later, avoids Qiao even after everything she did for him but does express compunction for doing so. He winds up in the wheelchair with no one to take care of him except for Qiao.
Qiao is a character dedicated to all those women who have showered all their love upon the man they love, left everything behind, and even sacrificed a lot to help him get out of trouble only to be deserted by him in the end. Jia Zhangke beautifully paints this character in Ash Is Purest White and presents a bold and strong woman who comes out of trouble on her own.