A TOUCH OF SIN
Directed by Jia Zhang-ke
Best Screenplay, 2013 Cannes Film Festival
Like a blunt dagger slash to the chest, Jia Zhang-ke’s A TOUCH OF SIN is a piercing critique with little care for tact or bloodstains. Made up of four interconnected vignettes, Jia’s latest is another tale of chapped drifters nearing the end of their weary lines. But this time, his protagonists – from miners to service workers – aren’t accepting their fates without first lashing violently against corruption and the odious faces of new economic power. This is Chinese cinema at its most disgusted and damning; there’s even a scene of a woman getting slapped repeatedly by a stack of dollar bills. As in the films of Takeshi Kitano, long stretches of bubbling unrest explode in violence when you least expect it, often from off-frame.
Needless to say, this isn’t your usual Jia Zhang-ke film. Present still is Jia’s muse Zhao Tao, as well as cinematographer Yu Lik-wai’s gorgeous horizontal glides over the faces of ordinary people. But Jia proves his adeptness with genre, in particular the wuxia actioner, interpreting his wanderers as anti-heroic drifters of the proverbial jianghu. Much of the brilliance of A TOUCH OF SIN comes from the way Jia uses myth and old martial arts motifs (especially Shaw-era swordplay) to project a movie-world fantasy that blurs with reality. (The episodes are based on real incidents in contemporary China.) The film coldly presents an unromanticized vigilantism that both sickens and invigorates, not merely through the images of violence, but also through the terrifying possibility that shotguns and butterfly knives may actually be a reprieve from the suffocation of the new China. –Brian Hu