Zhao Tao (“Mountains May Depart”) and Liao Fan (“Black Coal, Thin Ice”) are set to star in Jia Zhangke’s new film, “Ash Is Purest White,” the Chinese auteur’s follow-up to “Mountains May Depart,” which premiered in competition at Cannes. Previously titled “Money & Love,” the new film tells “a story of violent love within a time frame spanning from 2001 to 2017,” said Jia.

France’s MK2 represents “Ash” in international markets and is co-producing via MK Productions. Other production companies include Shanghai Film Group, Jia’s Xstream Pictures, Huanxi Media Group, Beijing Runjin Investment, and Office Kitano.

“Ash” is Jia’s most ambitious drama to date in terms of scope and scale. An epic love story set against the backdrop of China’s crime underworld, “Ash” opens in 2001, in a poor industrial city in China called Datong, where Qiao, a young dancer, falls in love with Bin, a local mobster. During a fight between rival gangs, Qiao fires a shot to protect him and is subsequently sentenced to five years in prison. Upon her release, Qiao goes looking for Bin to try to start all over again.

A well-known Chinese actress, as well as Jia’s wife, Zhao has starred in all of Jia’s feature films since “Platform” in 2000, in which she delivered a breakthrough performance. Jia-directed titles include “Unknown Pleasures,” “The World,” “Still Life,” “24 City,” “A Touch of Sin” and “Mountains May Depart.” Zhao’s acting credits also include Andrea Segre’s “Io Sono Li.” With that film, Zhao became the first Asian actor to win the David di Donatello Award for best actress.

Liao won best actor at the Berlin Film Festival for his role in “Black Coal, Thin Ice.” He was the first Chinese actor to win that prize at Berlin. His other credits include “The Master,” “Guilty of Mind,” “Let The Bullets Fly” and “Assembly.” “Ash” is expected to wrap production during the summer of 2018.

Patrick Frater contributed to this report.