Ash Is Purest White is a 2018 Chinese film directed by Jia Zhangke and starring his wife, Zhao Tao as the lead character Qiao.
The year is 2001. Qiao is a woman who lives in the mining city of Datong in Shanxinote . She dates Bin, who is a member of the local mafia and becomes its boss. One day a rival gang assaults him and beats him up; Qiao pulls a gun on them and saves him, but is arrested for illegal possession of a weapon and spends five years in jail (the gun is really Bin's, but she won't rat on him).
As she gets out in 2006, Bin has never visited her and he does not answer his phone. She travels through China in order to find him and have him explain himself.
- Absurdly High-Stakes Game: A person with reduced mobility bets their wheelchair.
- Armor-Piercing Response: At some point Qiao tells Bin that being loyal is part of being in The Mafia; something that he can no longer understand.
- Chekhov's Gun: Inverted early, as a gun is cocked but never used. Played straight later when Bin gives one to Qiao and teaches her how to use it.
- Churchgoing Villain: Qiao has her wallet stolen by a woman whose only characterisation is to be a Christian.
- Con Man: As she is penniless in Fengjie, Qiao cons a man into giving her much cash, pretending to be the sister of a woman he may have had an affair with. She tries this twice; her first mark doesn't fall for it.
- Determinator: Qiao becomes this in her search for Bin.
- Disco: In 2001, the Chinese seem to discover Y.M.C.A by Village People.
- Downer Ending: After spending a small fortune and a great amount of time, Qiao manages to hire a doctor who is able to treat the effects of Bin's stroke and he is able to walk again with the help of a cane. He ends up simply ghosting her, leaving only an envelope of cash and a two word voicemail on her phone: "I left."
- Dynamic Character: Qiao is first reluctant to be part of The Mafia. She then becomes increasingly loyal, and ready to do illegal things.
- Establishing Character Moment: Qiao enters the movie walking into a gambling parlor with total control, wordlessly shutting down any attempts to flirt with her and lighting up a cigarette at the playing table next to Bin, setting her up as a no-nonsense, confident woman not intimidated by anything.
- Give Me Back My Wallet: Having had her wallet stolen, Qiao finds her thief later and confronts her.
- The Law of Conservation of Detail: Qiao can push a motorbike in the mud without getting dirty.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: Miners in Datong are afraid they may be relocated to Xinjiang. That is not as bad as Antartica, but they are not pleased. It is later said that many people in the Three Gorges are being relocated somewhere else.
- Shout-Out: Early in the film, the musical theme from Once Upon a Time in China is played.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Bin, and how. Not only does he not pay Qiao a single visit in prison or send any letters after she took the heat for him, but at the end of the movie, he repays her efforts to heal his paralysis with a small wad of cash and pulling his usual disappearing act on her again.