Ash Is Purest White ★★★★

you could say the movie is about china, who meets and falls in love with a charismatic leader. this leader introduces china to the rabble, the underground, jeonghi*: the invisible excess of civilization, which is the universal of civilization: “wherever there are people there will be jeonghi”. this leader teaches china to fire a gun and when the leader is at risk, china fires a gun. but this puts china in a prison and when they come out, they discover their leader has changed. they flirt with capitalism briefly while in transit, a capitalism full of narratives, tourisms, money making and affection, but ultimately abandons capitalism on that train. they reunite with a tired iteration of that same old leader, who can no longer walk and is no longer jeonghi, though china still is. a filmmaker, named jia, clowns this leader but is silenced by china. finally china is left by these leaders. left to study herself with the surveillance cameras she set up. 

these of course are orwellian anti-marxist allegorisms, an over simplified, liberal and reactionary reading of the movie, which jia is much too smart for. 

early on in a conversation, brother eryong says the only two things he cares about in life are animal documentaries and ballroom dancing. expanding on the animal documentaries he says, all they do is eat sleep and shit, just like humans: it’s depressing. of course what eryong misses is that animals don’t make animal documentaries, is that what jia is doing here? a study of the life habits of the human animal? involving the ritual hierarchies and mating practises as well as brief studies of their environment (rising sea levels, stock conversations, neighbourhood redevelopments, &c) or is there something more going on here. 

is qiao in fact a subject of the highest degree. is the firing of the gun still an event, which she maintains fidelity to. first reading it as her love for bin, but after learning it as her commitment to the jeonghi, which she remains faithful to even after bin has betrayed it.

as she develops clarity in this commitment, or updates her commitment, the camera the movie is shot on, itself updates, until it becomes a camera she herself sets up and then the same process is doubled, begins again, but with a new level of reflexivity and autonomy on the part of the subject. the freedom she gains is not bin’s abandonment (that she is finally alone) but instead that she takes the means of production of her “environment” (she is in a movie) into her own hands: setting up her own camera.

*apologies for misspelling — i’m in a lyft from the airport and can’t look it up (the movie was watched on a small screen that flipped out of an armrest with cheap black headphones, which came with a high buzz, provided by the airline — the sound collapsed on my system mid flight and i had to switch seats over the atlantic to finish the picture)