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China 2013
Directed by
Jia Zhangke
133 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Touch Of Sin, A

Jia Zhangke’s film which is made up of four loosely connected stories based on contemporary real life events is a portrait of modern-day China but it is no tourist brochure for the armchair traveller. It is rather a disturbing image of a country that is freewheeling its way through a Darwinian slough of apathy and desperation as it succumbs to the unchecked ill-effects of Western consumer capitalism. It is also a film whose richly detailed  panorama would, I suspect, resonate much more strongly with a home audience.

Loosely inspired by King Hu’s 1971 martial arts film A Touch of Zen and based on newspaper stories that caught Jia’s eye, it is connected by a common presence of seemingly random violence: a bored itinerant worker goes on a killing spree; a disgruntled former miner extracts revenge on the people he believes have destroyed the old collectivist order; an unhappy receptionist in a brothel snaps and kills a bullying john; and a young man, unable to cope with the everyday struggle to survive, takes his own life. The violence is not graphic but it is presented with a shocking matter-of-factness, a strikingly literal manifestation of the violence being done to the soul of its protagonists.

The narrative connections between the four stories is at best tangential (there is a kind of coda which very loosely draws them together). This both reflects Jia’s intention to portray both the disconnected of the country itself (the four stories are set in widely separated parts of China) and the underlying sense of resigned hopelessness, an endemic social malaise to which Jia offers no relief but rather turns back on his audience and asks (sic): “Do you see now what your sin is?”




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