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Ash is Purest White

The gang-inflected Chinese drama is currently in theaters.

Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Metacritic score: 85

Ash is Purest White is sort of a love story, sort of a gangster story. It tells the story of Qiao (Zhao Tao), girlfriend of mob boss Bin (Liao Fan), who one night takes the fall for Bin and winds up in jail for five years. He never visits her during that time, and when she finds him after her release, she discovers he has a new girlfriend and is hiding from her. Qiao takes off on a quest to make him talk to her, and it takes her in some very unexpected directions.

The film is kind of a fable, or maybe a tragedy, filled with twists that at times verge on the surreal, and it’s most interesting when it’s exploring how changes in China affect the lives of ordinary people in the country. But there’s no doubt that Zhao is a mesmerizing presence, a woman spurned who plans to get her life back and isn’t afraid to use every means at her disposal to do so. And yet the film doesn’t spurn realism; we can want what we want, but life sometimes has other plans.