Qiao (Tao Zhao) and her boyfriend, Bin (Fan Liao) are a couple at the head of a small criminal gang. Inherited after the former leader dies, Bin and Qiao set about to keep things going and also keep their relationship as strong as it ever was before. However, Qiao is no shy and retiring wallflower and is well aware as to what she is getting into and so the power couple try to maintain their business and manage the violence that gets thrown in their direction, particularly when it is directed towards Bin.
Then one night, a violent gang attack gets out of hand and in the name of love, Qiao’s actions send them both to prison. Five years pass and on Qiao’s release she starts to realise that getting things back to the way they were before will not be as easy as she expected.
Ash is Purest White talks about the dynamics between two people in what seems to be a solid relationship, the expectations that men put upon women and what happens after everything goes wrong. Qiao and Bin’s relationship is never seen as some kind of Bonnie and Clyde, love conquers all passage to happiness but instead starts out by showing them as equal partners in a criminal world.
However, as Qiao is released from prison her eyes are opened, as are the audience’s, and through the many interactions she has with the men she meets while trying to find Bin, it puts a lens up to the world and a realistic portrayal of the expectations that men put upon women because of the presumed entitlement they may feel as the stronger sex.
Qiao’s encounters never feel forced or clichéd but are all too real and recognisable, the difference being that Qiao is no fool and whereas other films may expect her experiences to play out differently, here she is very aware of how the world is for a woman and she expertly works her way around it to get to where she wants.
Zhao’s performance is impressive. Displaying a strong, determined attitude that always stays realistic, Zhao’s character arc shows her just as any other woman, not overly strong or athletic nor glamorous and feisty. Qiao is just who she is and through Zhao’s performance the audience understands exactly what Qiao has had to endure and why she is sick of being treated as second best.
A satisfying story of love, loss and retribution, Ash is Purest White is not in any way comparable to its Western counterparts and feels more nuanced and unexpected for that reason. The audience is never led to believe certain things about the characters but is instead given a realistic portrayal of China in the 21st Century and how gender roles can mean so much for some and so little for others.
Don’t expect a dramatic Hollywood style ending either or a ‘love is all you need’ message either. Ash is Purest White intends to show how much Qiao is willing to go through in the name of love and although the film is never shocking or all that surprising in terms of what happens to her, there are bound to be many who view it who will be able to relate to her story.
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