Again this year, Denver Film Festival artistic director Brit Withey is offering his must-see picks for each day of the fest — including many flicks that movie lovers might otherwise miss amid the flood of silver-screen goodies. Today he spotlights a selection for November 8: Ash Is the Purest White.
Ash Is the Purest White
Directed by Jia Zhang-ke
6:15 p.m. Thursday, November 8
"This film is by Jia Zhang-ke, a director I'm really fond of," says Denver Film Festival artistic director Brit Withey about Ash Is the Purest White. "I think we've shown every one of his films since the mid- to late 1990s at the festival. He's an amazing filmmaker, and one of his films, A Touch of Sin, won our Best Feature Film award back in 2013."
The filmmaker's latest is "really an epic about an up-and-coming gangster in China and his girlfriend," he points out. "She's definitely in love with him, but he can kind of take her or leave her, even though she's important to him. The film traces his rise to power in one of many, many small-town gangs. Then one day, he's confronted by a rival gang and he's getting beaten up when his girlfriend jumps out of a car and fires a gun, and everybody flees."
Here's the trailer for Ash Is the Purest White.
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This act saves the woman's lover, "but she's arrested," Withey continues. "If she turned on him, that would be that. But she won't do that, and as a result, she's sentenced to several years in prison. At that point, the story shifts to following her time in prison, and when she gets out, she expects to go back to her old life. But the man is gone, and she wants to find him."
The woman's search through China is depicted by way of sweeping visuals that definitely take advantage of the big screen, Withey says — and when she locates him, "he's on a downward slide, and she's become the more powerful person. She's gotten really tough in prison and is on the way to becoming the head of this underground criminal organization. She begins to take care of him, and that doesn't sit well. It's hard for him."
Withey describes the film as a whole as "a long, sprawling gangster relationship drama that turns in multiple ways over a couple of decades in time, and the acting is just amazing. Jia Zhang-ke is an incredible filmmaker. Anytime I go to a film festival and there's something by him, I know it's not to be missed."