Jia Zhangke’s ‘Ash Is Purest White’ to Get Wide Release in China

After years of failing to secure release dates in China, the auteur’s cricitally acclaimed work is finally finding an audience at home.

Long ignored or failing to find distribution in his homeland, the latest work of arthouse star Jia Zhangke will be screened in China, with the auteur revealing Wednesday at a press conference in Beijing that Ash is Purest White will receive a nationwide theatrical release on Sept. 21.

The film, which premiered in competition at the recent Cannes Film Festival to critical praise, is a melancholy epic following the relationship between a low-level Chinese gangster (Liao Fan) and the woman who goes to prison for him (played by Jia’s wife and muse Zhao Tao).

Jia has been a staple of high-minded international cinema for years, with all but his very first student film appearing at the Berlin, Venice or Cannes film festivals. His sixth film, Still Life, won the Venice Golden Lion in 2006, and his eighth, A Touch of Sin, brought home the Cannes best screenplay award in 2015.

But beloved as it may be by foreign cineastes, much of Jia’s work either came prior to the development of a market for art house cinema in China, or it touched upon themes deemed unacceptable by Beijing’s censors. A Touch of Sin, for example — a searing meditation on the inequities of contemporary China — was never able to secure permission for a release, despite being co-produced by the state-backed Shanghai Film Group.

Jia’s fortunes at home began to turn around in 2016 with Mountains May Depart. A more muted and emotionally driven rebuke of China’s breakneck economic development than some of his earlier work, the film became his first project since the 2010 documentary I Wish I Knew to be exhibited publicly in China. Screened nationwide, it earned $4.3 million, a then-unprecedented performance for an art film in the country, suggesting that the bottleneck likely had more to do with censorship than the tastes of Chinese consumers. 

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