The article is originally posted on CineClub18 with 152 views.
Jiexiao Ying 2019.03.22
Translated by Lan Lin 2019.06.14
Today, March 22nd (Friday), Ash is Purest White is released in more American cities. Everyone is welcome to bring friends and go back to the good old days of Jianghu (criminal underworld) in this film. What are your thoughts on the film? Let’s hear the honest discussion from the New York Cinephile Club.
At 3:50 pm on March 16th, 19 people from the New York Cinephile Club watched Jia Zhangke’s Ash is Purest White at Quad Cinema. After the film, fans from different backgrounds such as drama, editing, technology, and international relations went to Ootoya to have dinner and discuss the parts of the movie that puzzled and surprised us.
Participants: Vivian, Shelby, Jessie, Elaine, Xiaojia, Motao, Amy, William, Sean, Vincent, Yunkai…
Q1: What story did this film try to tell for you?
Vivian: I realize that different people approach the story differently, so I would like to ask everyone what kind of story Ash is Purest White is to you? When I first watched it at the New York Film Festival, I thought it was a woman’s history of growing up in Jianghu. After the fall of the leader, she bears the symbol of love and righteousness. Now I think it is also a story about migration, migrating both in time and physical space. Characters take various forms of transportation and walk on land and waterways. The migration aspect of the story resonates with me as I am currently living abroad.
Shel: I think it is a bit similar to Cold War, approaching an ever-changing era from an individual’s emotional perspective. The timeline is very interesting, but as a fan of Pawlikowski, I kind of got distracted.
William: What I see is a love relationship that has constantly been disappointed, and the chosen era of the film enhances the tension of the story and the fatefulness of the characters. I really like the use of dialects in the film, (though sometimes I have to read English subtitles to understand). From the Datong dialect in the opening sequence to the Mandarin in Fengjie, and the occasional English phrases that come out from students who usually speak Mandarin and Cantonese, the dialect adds complexity to the characters. Unfortunately, the complexity in dialects can’t be fully presented through translation. The English title of the film is well drafted. As said in the film, Ash Is Purest White, “After burning in the volcano, the ashes are the purest white.” it connects with the volcanic ash scene while portraying of Qiaoqiao’s emotions. Why would Qiaoqiao save the unfaithful brother Bin over and over again? Qiao keeps saying “I saved you because people in Jianghu are loyal to each other, not because I still have any feelings for you .” But after all, how could one distinguish love from loyalty in her case.
Elaine: Personally, I think the director wants to tell a story about redemption through the concept of Jianghu, which loosely translates to “the criminal underworld” in English. However, the shaping of Jianghu lacks depth and context. All I saw was killings, unreliable brotherhood, and fragile love relationships. I don’t see anything unique.
Amy: Jia Zhangke has been exploring commercial films for recent years, but my favorite is his film “Platform” in 2000. Commercial films are products that cater to the tastes of a mass audience, while arthouse films focus on self-expression. But this new film fits either side, which is a pity.
Jessie: My overall impression of the film is that the director is trying to construct a woman’s 15-year-long psychological journey. The film’s expression power heavily depends on each character’s action and the acting of actors. This allows us to focus on Qiaoqiao’s emotions, but I hope the connection between different characters can be stronger.
Q2: Why does the Three Gorges(San Xia) appear in the film?
Vivian: It is probably an effort to mummify the ephemeral landscape and. The landscape of the Yangtze River has changed. After many years, what we are familiar now will require archaeology to recreate the settings and let future people understand our feelings. So there is an awkward tour guide talking on the cruise, the rumbling sound of the bus, and the WeChat notification sound (audience in the front row said they thought it was from their phones).
Q3: Is Er’sao (the second sister-in-law) the woman who visited the prison?
William: I was also trying to figure out who was visiting. It seems like there are no other related female characters except Er’sao. I’m sure that woman is not the fictional “sister” Qiaoqiao created to blackmail the rich men.
Q4: Why is there a UFO in the movie?
Vivian: At the New York Film Festival, Jia Zhangke said that the UFO introduces a perspective of the aliens. They look down on humans who are struggling in this criminal underworld, and every conflict, gathering, and farewell are as insignificant as a grain of sand.
Yunkai: As far as I know, Jia Zhangke believes in the existence of extraterrestrial civilization. He thinks that shaping a character and a relationship in a film is like building a world. People who build this world are the filmmakers, and they are more or less playing the role of God.
Amy: I think it is a forceful move to express the director’s personal feelings and art ideas. The UFO sequence is particularly strange.
Vivian: I think it’s intriguing to insert a fantasy moment into your daily life. The recurring UFO concept is like an easter egg in Jia Zhangke’s cinematic universe. The characters treat the UFO seriously and Qiaoqiao calmly says “I have seen a UFO before,” which highlights the absurdity of everyday life.
Q5: What are Jia Zhangke’s comments about China in this film?
William: Many details in the film are characteristic of our era. The small kitchen filled with spices, the faded Spring Festival couplets on a wooden door, the antique radio broadcasting at the village, the stone road, the new downtown of highrises, the Three Gorges Dam, the thief in the cruise, the shirtless young artist singing the old song “How Much Love Can Start Once More”, the iPhone, and the WeChat QR code… These scenes we take for granted is probably a unique and realistic portrayal of China for foreign viewers. (It’s interesting that your reception of a film changes when you watch a Chinese film abroad.) I find a lot of the sly innuendos about a certain time period very funny, such as waiting at a KTV, or Dr. Feng presenting his WeChat QR code to the patients and etc.
Shel: Feng Xiaogang’s cameo as the doctor who pulls out his WeChat QR code distracted me from immersing in the film. Everyone laugh whenever he appears.
Q6: What do you think about different frame ratios in the film?
William: I noticed that some dancing scenes at the beginning are a 4:3 ratio. I am not sure if it is a deliberate effort to create a sense of the past?
Vivian: I remember director Jia said that some of the scenes were footages shot from the streets and later edited into the film. I really like the surprise of the documentary footage inserted into the drama.
Q7: What are the roles of the caged lions and tigers and the song “How Much Love Can Start Once More” in the film?
Sean: Maybe I read too much into it, but people of Jianghu are the caged lions and tigers. They are the kings in their small realm.
Vivian: I think brother Bin and Qiaoqiao’s situation is identical to the situation of the trapped beasts. “How Much Love Can Start Once More” is a beautiful yet cheesy song which pokes at Qiaoqiao’s pain. Although it is a sad scene, you find it funny, then you find deeper sadness in the funny setting. The experience is similar to “A Chinese Odyssey Part Two: Cinderella,”’ where there is a famous line, “A true love was once presented to me, but I did not cherish it…” It was funny the first time you hear it, but you feel the profound love underneath the second time you hear it. Therefore, gaudy things can also express sophisticated emotions. Actually, we often ponder about love through cheesy pop songs every day.
Elaine: The interpretation of the kings and the trapped beasts are quite amazing. In the end, Qiaoqiao says she will leave the underworld, but the truth is she still lingers between the Mahjong tables. The Mahjong room doesn’t change much. People are still bad-tempered and wanderer around places. The volcano at the beginning never erupts. After all they have been through, Qiaoqiao and brother Bin return to this small field. They have no bigger world to go.
Q8: The acting is amazing!
Yiyi: I think a lot of details were hilarious. The leading actress shows the character trait from innocence to mature is well played.. However, the plot does not have any highlights.
Sean: Zhang Yi’s part is amazing. His sudden change of expression makes the audience fully aware of him immediately.
Yunkai: Er’shu (second uncle), the character who died at the very beginning was great.
William: I think character design and production design are the biggest highlights of the film. From the pretty disco girl in the late 90’s to the plain-looking female tourist with a ponytail, and the seasoned Mahjong room boss, Zhao Tao is extremely precise in acting each phase of the character. Her acting goes beyond shaped the changes of costumes and the story setting to showcase the nuances from age and experience. City and village buses, sedans, motorcycles, and trains…. The character’s development records the changes of an era and the living conditions of ordinary people. People of Jianghu, some went to jail and some became bosses.
Vivian: Thank you all for your thoughts. It seems that our first screening event to watch “Ash is Purest White(People of Jianghu)” is destiny! I feel lucky and honored to get to know everyone away from our homeland. I am looking forward to the next screening event and the open discussion.
New York Cinephile Club / North America Cinephile Club
If you are interested in movies, especially Chinese arthouse films, please join the New York Cinephile Club. You may do so by scanning the WeChat QR code, note “Name-Location-School or Work”. Come participate in the screening events and discussions!
If you are not in New York, I will invite you to join the North America Cinephile Club.
Next Screening Event: “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” by Bi Gan will come with giveaways.
Jiexiao Vivian Ying Bio:
NYU Cinema Studies graduate, I hope to connect Chinese diasporas through movies.
参与者：Vivian, Shelby, Jessie, Elaine, 小佳, 墨陶, Amy, William, Sean, Vincent, 云开……
William: 我看到的是一个不断被辜负的爱情故事，特定的时代背景增加了故事的张力和角色的宿命感。我很喜欢影片中方言的运用，（虽然有时要看英文字幕才能听懂😹），从开篇的大同方言到在奉节的普通话方言切换，还有大学生国语粤语中偶尔蹦出的英文，方言本身给角色增加了一层深度，可惜这一层在翻译中表现不了。影片英文名拟得很好，Ash Is Purest White，“最纯的白是火山煅烧的灰烬”。呼应片中火山灰的桥段，也是巧巧人物情感的写照。为何巧巧一而再再而三地救“渣男”斌哥？嘴上说“江湖人讲的是义气，我对你已无情”。但是江湖情义，几分是义几分是情呢。