A Touch of Sin presents a critical view of modern day China’s obsession with money and power, and the fact that those without it can be pushed to murderous ends.
Director Jia Zhangke takes the audience on the journeys of his four main characters:
Firstly, we follow a man who seeks violent revenge against the big man who has ripped off his villagers, keeping them in a life of poverty. Secondly, we are shown a brother who uses violence, murder and theft to supply his poor family with money. Thirdly, we meet a woman whose mistreatment by wealthy men causes her to snap, resulting in murder. Lastly, we find a young man jumping from one depressing, dead-end job to the next while trying to support his family, and his journey ends in a very personal act of violence.
Although all four characters do sin, Zhangke creates the impression that the greatest sin is that so many lives are trapped in misery and poverty from which there seems to be no escape.
The film’s violence is brutal and frank. Zhangke doesn’t shy away from showing heads being blown apart and graphic images of blood, similar to Quentin Tarantino’s use of ultra-violence. This gore is combined with moments of dark humour scattered throughout. When the citizen from the first journey finally takes his revenge on the village leader, we are moved to laughter by the incongruous image of him covered in blood with a large smile on his face. Similarly, in the third journey, the excessive slapstick of the young woman being repeatedly slapped with money for a ridiculously long time combines cruelty with laughter.
The cinematography is one of the best things about this film. Still shots displaying dystopian landscapes paint a picture of this foreign, depressingly run-down world that the characters struggle to survive in. Throughout the film the audience is shown shots of towns full of snow and rock that are devoid of any vegetation, villages surrounded by smog, and dilapidated apartment blocks as far as the eye can see. No matter where these characters’ journeys take us, China appears to be a bleak world for those without money.
A Touch of Sin offers a different view of modern-day China from the modern power-house of progress and affluence that they present to the world, where all people seem to be sharing in this new version of the capitalist dream. Zhangke’s presentation of these true-life stories reveals a dark underbelly of poverty, violence and despair.
Reviewed by Georgina Smerd
Venue: Mercury Cinema, 13 Morphett Street, Adelaide
Season: 26 September 2015 only
Duration: 2 hours 13 minutes