thu 25/04/2024

A Touch of Sin | reviews, news & interviews

A Touch of Sin

A Touch of Sin

Jia Zhang-ke's latest is a searing, explosive and instantly iconic examination of contemporary China

When violence becomes the only means of expression: Zhao Tao is mad as hell in 'A Touch of Sin'

Speaking at the BFI's recent preview Jia Zhang-ke revealed that his surprisingly bloodthirsty latest is in fact, contrary to the shift it seems, the next logical step in his journey as a filmmaker: an amalgamation of his interest in personal crisis and his great love for the work of John Woo. Jia described A Touch of Sin as the film where he finally puts a "gun in the hands" of his beleaguered protagonists.

It comprises four stories from the economic giant and human rights black hole that is modern China, each of which culminate in cataclysmic violence. With visuals inspired by traditional Chinese landscape art and a narrative infused with an operatic sense of tragedy, A Touch of Sin paints an unforgettable picture.

It's a picture that's somewhat bleak, albeit shot through with tenebrous thrills and humour. Jia (best known for 2006's Golden Lion-winning Still Life, who has also directed a number of documentaries) presents a series of rather desperate situations which will be partly recognisable to westerners and which contain elements that are specific to China. A Touch of Sin works well as a heart-stopping thriller - it takes inspiration from the gangster, western and martial arts genres and has much in common with contemporary crime cinema - but it's also passionately critical and even educational regarding the culture and commercial climate it depicts.

Jia's film journeys from the north to the south of China, aping the trajectory of economic migration, from Jia's home-province of Shanxi to Dongguan. Featuring the requisite shifts in dialect and using real-life news stories as a starting point, A Touch of Sin outlines the corruption in Chinese society. From the affluent establishment figures who steal from the state, to the criminal gangs, to the sexual and financial exploitation of workers, there's a sense of the survival of the most selfish. Sympathetically, Jia hones in on the ordinary people whose hopes and dreams get crushed - the voiceless masses, who are searching for a better life and for whom violence becomes their only means of expression.

We meet a miner and political agitator driven mad by corruption and indifference (Jiang Wu); a woman whose receptionist job at a massage parlour puts her in danger (Zhao Tao); a factory worker seen fleeing his home when he's forced to pay his colleague's sick pay after an accident at work (Luo Lanshan) and who later falls for a woman working in the sex trade (Meng Li); and a man so chillingly detached from the world he inhabits that he's able to kill without giving it a second thought (Wang Baoqiang).  

A Touch of Sin presents a society which disrespects and demeans women and which offers few prospects or protection for ordinary people of either gender: a place where a cramped tower block which houses factory workers in bunks is cruelly named "Oasis of Prosperity". It's not all po-faced, polemical critique, though, as Jia wittily cameos as a sleazebag, and there are smatterings of bad-taste fun. For example - a broad, satisfied smile stands in stark, amusing contrast to the ultra-violence that has provoked it. And boy do Jia and his regular cinematographer Yu Lik-wai know how to create iconic imagery - something that's announced by the film's striking opening which features an upturned apple truck, a motorcyclist in a trench-coat and an explosion (pictured above right).

Building itself up in meticulously constructed layers, A Touch of Sin marks an exciting evolution in Jia's career whilst confirming his reputation as one of the most compassionate, thoughtful directors working in cinema today.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for A Touch of Sin

Follow @EmmaSimmonds on Twitter

A Touch of Sin takes inspiration from the gangster, western and martial arts genres


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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