Screening Room: ‘Ash is Purest White’

(Cohen Media Group)

The latest release from the great director Jia Zhang-Ke (A Touch of Sin, Mountains May Depart) is an ambitious modern-day Chinese crime epic.

Ash is Purest White opens this week in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

When Qiao (the everyday elegant Tao Zhao) sweeps into the grey and smoky mahjong parlor at the start of Jia Zhang-Ke’s downbeat epic Ash Is Purest White (Jiang hu er nü) she’s greeted by the thronged kibitzers and gamblers as both a being apart and yet just one of the guys…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Mountains May Depart’

mountainsmaydepart1Now that the Chinese stock market is whipsawing from highs to lows and the permanent growth cycle appears to be broken, it’s probably the perfect time for a state-of-the-nation drama from one of the great modern Chinese directors: Jia Zhangke.

mountainsmaydepart-poster1Mountains May Depart is playing now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

Whatever is left of China at the start of Jia Zhangke’s epic triptych Mountains May Depart, it isn’t a place for which anyone will feel nostalgic. The first scene, set in 1999 in the small northern city of Fenyang, seems shrouded in grey. The crumbling brick buildings and bare landscape denote the only work that seems on offer here, at a coal mine.

Still, this is a time of economic boom, when China is transforming into an industrial powerhouse the likes of which had never been seen before. The film goes on to reveal the costs of that era’s sky-high promises of prosperity and accompanying irrational exuberance…

You can see my review of Jia Zhangke’s last masterpiece, A Touch of Sin, here.

Here’s the trailer for Mountains May Depart:

New in Theaters: ‘A Touch of Sin’

Zhao Tao in ‘A Touch of Sin’

It’s hard to know what to make of Jia Zhangke’s newest film A Touch of Sin. On the one hand, it’s a docudrama that links together four based-on-reality stories about Chinese people taking desperate measures in horrendous circumstances. But as much as it reminds one of great novels about people caught in the capitalist machinery of the 19th century (Balzac and Dreiser, in particular), it’s also a stylized revenge film with some surrealism thrown in for good measure. Whatever it is, this is not a film to miss.

Winner of the best screenplay award of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, A Touch of Sin is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International; here’s part:

The closest you’ll come to a happy person in Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin is the grim-faced loner Zhou San (Wang Baoqiang). Unfortunately, he’s probably a psychopath. The film’s three other major characters are all eventually thrust into a type of insanity, but Zhou is the only one who seems to have both already crossed over and be content with it…

You can watch the trailer here: