Zhao (Tao Zhao) is the girlfriend of a Chinese mafia boss. She is well respected and liked by the other mobsters. But one day the boss is attacked and she takes extraordinary action to protect him. Her life changed forever, she must rediscover who she is and what she wants.
The story of Ash is Purest White spans seventeen years, the progression of time subtly indicated through evolving technology and small visual cues. It’s a compelling story that relishes in the impact of time on its characters. A lengthy prison sentence vanishes in just a few scenes, this period of Zhao’s life gone just as quickly as it took for her to perform the act. The final moments are far removed stylistically from its opening. The camera becomes more intimate, less sweeping and the environments become ever less cinematic, culminating in a long static shot from the perspective of a CCTV camera. The glamour truly drained from this life.
A song that features prominently in John Woo’s The Killer plays over the opening credits of this film. The mafia characters watch this film together. The film declares it’s intention to interrogate the myth of the stylish Chinese gun-slinging mafioso. It is, therefore, a little incongruous that the big climactic moment near the end of the first act is so stylistic. The fight occurs in a crowded street, with eloquently choreographed fist fighting and even a stylish flourish involving the wielding of a gun. The fiction is portrayed as reality here, however, the big fight is merely the instigating action. The consequences of this violence form the bulk of the story.
One of the great joys of the film is seeing Zhao use her cunning to get what she needs. Part of the story involves her pursuing a former love interest. She does so with ruthless determination and ploys that often very comical. The film goes so far as to accompany her with an ominous drone reminiscent of The Terminator. Tao Zhao’s performance is very engaging. Her sorrow at the ever-changing world is understandable.
Ash is Purest White is a morose and poignant examination of a fall from grace. It’s a stylish and well-acted crime drama.