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The winner of the best screenplay award, Jia Zhangke took a giant step away from his more meditative films like Still Life or 24 City. (He’s a great purveyor of “slow cinema.” Stay with his films and they will resonate). The brutal A Touch of Sin is made up of four chapters, all based on real-life incidents of violence. The storytelling lucidly draws you into each of the blood-soaked storylines, and, remarkably, the film offers a scalding look at contemporary China by one its most acclaimed directors—and with government support (the Shanghai Film Group). I suppose that the title is ambiguous enough to finger point any moral lapse at the characters and not at the country’s communist/capitalist system. These are engrossing homilies against different types of private transgressions.
Setting an unhinged tone, the film begins with a motorcyclist blocked at a road stop by men with guns. He needs to pay to pass through. The driver reaches for the rifle strapped over his shoulder and shoots them all dead. The vigilante, Dahai (Jiang Wu), arrives back at his hometown, where he’s convinced everyone in power is on the take: his village privatized its coal mine, but the promised yearly dividends to the workers have never been distributed. He’s proven right.
The film gives new meaning to the term “blood money.” It also features a scene from a pragmatic marriage, where a wife advises her traveling husband, “If you use a call girl, use a condom” and the truism: “There’s no true love in sex work.” Only one of the chapters feels too rushed and a little under-developed. Overall, this was one film that I gladly wished was longer. It’s the best omnibus in quite some time. One question lingers, though: how many theaters will actually show this in China?— Kent Turner, Film-Forward
Fri & Sat November 8 & 9, 2013, 7:00 only, Muenzinger Auditorium
China, 2013, Mandarin w/ English subtitles, Color, 133 mins, DP, 2.35:1, NR