Ash Is Purest White

New York Times Critics' Pick
136 mins.
Directed by Zhangke Jia
Mandarin with subtitles
2019

In 2001, Qiao (Zhao Tao) lives in a town tumbling into economic decline. She concerns herself little with such matters because her boyfriend, Bin (Liao Fan), is a dashing gangster who works for a corrupt property developer.

After his boss is murdered, Bin ascends in rank and finds himself vulnerable to rival hostilities. When Bin and Qiao are arrested, she makes a fateful decision: she takes the heat.

After five years in prison, she emerges to find her world has transformed. Her former mafia associates have moved into legitimate businesses, while Bin has found another moll.

Qiao seeks revenge, but, more importantly, she searches for a new identity in a changing China — a search that will take her to Three Gorges Dam and toward a powerful revelation.


“ASH IS PUREST WHITE, Jia Zhangke’s enthralling new feature, isn’t really a crime drama... His movies, fictional and nonfictional alike, document the transformation of cities, landscapes and ways of life as those upheavals affect families, couples and groups of friends.” A.O. Scott. A New York Times Critic's Pick!