In four unrelated chapters “A Touch of Sin” tells the story of contemporary China, a semi-totalitarian state bearing the accoutrements of wealth and steeped in a capitalism that’s violent, unjust, zealous and already decadent.
Zhangke Jia, likely China’s most accomplished filmmaker, draws a picture of his birthplace that’s cold, realistic and extremely determined. “Sin” is taken up with a formidable tension, making the viewer shudder and shiver.
“A touch of sin” revolves around stories that are set in very different geographical and social milieus across China, ranging from the vibrant metropolis of Guangzhou to the more rural townships of Shanxi, where the filmmaker is from. These stories, written by Jia himself, were sourced from China’s wildly popular social networks, the only place online where you can get a fresh outlook unspoiled by government censorship. All stories follow the same leitmotiv: individuals, crushed by the system, are pushed to let go, kill, flee or die.
In the first chapter, a young man, driven to rage after seeing how corrupt the elite of his village are and the complacency of the citizenry, goes on a rampage and wastes five people. The following story is a touching portrait of a biker, a charismatic lone rider who earns his stripes along thieves and assassins. In the third, a receptionist humiliated by a customer asking for sex by shaking wads of cash in her face, murders him in some strangely beautiful way. The final act of “Sin” a young man finally succumbs to the pressure of unsatisfactory jobs, and cracking under pressure, commits suicide. This tragedy of this young man dying is a reminder of the Dickensian working conditions in some of China’s most important factories, places where our smartphones are assembled.
Intent on his film’s panoptical depiction of China Zhangke was careful to situate all four stories in four distinct regions, which as it were are also expressed in four different dialects. To better drive home the point the filmmaker has commented that in preparing for the film he draw inspiration from the old classical Chinese masters, who often drew different panoramas across the country on the same canvas.
The least we can say is that the China (an inferno of corruption, cynicism and violence, of which Jiangke may only be showing the precursors) depicted in “A Touch of Sin” is not a pretty sight.
Office Kitano participated in financing the project.