About two-thirds of the way into Ash Is Purest White, the latest triumph by Chinese master Jia Zhang-ke, the heroine, Qiao (Zhao Tao, Jia’s regular leading lady), meets a strange man on a train heading north from the central province of Hubei. Qiao was recently released from prison after serving a five-year term; after tracking down her boyfriend, who didn’t bother to meet her upon her release, she discovered that he had taken up with another woman while Qiao was in jail. Qiao intends to return to her hometown of Datong, though she’s not sure what she’ll do there. Feeling rudderless, she listens to the strange man with rapt attention, as if looking for a sign for what to do with her life. He says he’s headed to an area near the border with Inner Mongolia, where he plans to set up a tourism company that will take people to places where others have claimed to see UFOs. Qiao lies and claims that she’s seen a flying saucer herself, perhaps to earn the stranger’s trust. He concludes the spiel about his prospective business by saying, “The bottom line is, we’re all prisoners of the universe.” CONTINUE READING