A Touch of Sin Screen 34 articles

A Touch of Sin


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  • These genre flirtations don’t exactly come naturally to the director: one driven-to-the-brink character clutches a knife in her fist with stiff unfamiliarity, and Jia shifts tonal gears just as mechanically. If the final effect is somewhat less nuanced than his previous work, it's a good deal more vigorous.

  • The degree to which the violent acts can be justified varies from “mostly” to “somewhat” to “not in the slightest,” so that sometimes you’re grooving on deliberately heightened badass vigilante justice and sometimes you’re repelled by uncompromising realism. If it were a progression, that’d be one thing (albeit still didactic), but the back-and-forth makes it seem merely muddled. Encouraging though it is to see Jia stretching himself, he hasn’t quite made a successful transition to populism yet.

  • “A Touch of Sin” is Jia’s most conventional movie and hence, in a way, his most obvious representation of China as a Hobbesian industrial behemoth. (The 2002 “Unknown Pleasures” which in my opinion remains his strongest film, is more subtle and corrosive.) Still, with the exception of the movie’s fourth episode, the news items dramatized in “A Touch of Sin” have only minimal depth.

  • From village to Golden Age, the latter being a high-class brothel specialising in Commie kitsch - one of the Party's few explicit appearances though I guess it's implicitly blamed for this savage, violent China where people are no better than animals (animals keep turning up, to underline the point; "Can an animal commit suicide?" asks the TV), the last shot adding a charge of collective responsibility.

  • Jia may have conceived and produced A Touch of Sin for and about his own people, but the thematic inquiries of his film remain universal, the extent of his ambition as limitless and provocative as it's ever been.

  • The episodes may be uneven: the second is by far the weakest, while the first is irresistibly compelling (and bears not a little resemblance, strangely enough, to Tarantino’s Django Unchained). But, taken together, they yield a synthetic portrait of a society corroded from within by the gangrenous effects of its endemic violence.

  • Ultimately, the film is “political” in exactly the same way as the King Hu wuxia films that partly inspired it. It plays to the millions of Weibo users who heard things through the grapevine, many of whom will recall the incidents that inspired these stories. Of course, Jia proffers no solutions. He cunningly knits the stories together with recurrent motifs (such as characters who need advice to get where they’re going)...

  • The commentary here is forceful, but it all feels a bit easy, which surely isn’t helped by the wide focus, and the short amount of time we have to spend with each set of characters imposes a sense of broadness on the upon the rapid patter of quick jokes and jabs at the capitalist insurgence. Yet the moments where this clicks are really great (the first five minutes / the bathhouse murder / everything about the luxury hotel).

  • In A Touch of Sin, Jia is attuned to, and saddened by, the violence he sees creeping through his country, caused at least partly by the ever-widening disparity between rich and poor. He ends on a note that's more haunting than hopeful. Even if the worst sins can be forgiven, forgetting them may be much harder.

  • [After the opening scene,] Jia upends convention. His movie gets quieter, the violence comes more slowly. Hardship makes these people direct their anger inward as well as outward... “A Touch of Sin” is by no means subtle, but it is composed with a passion and sinuous grace that makes it far more effective than many other sincere message movies.

  • Many of Jia’s films have been about bluntly binary social divides... 2008’s 24 City and 2010’s I Wish I Knew examined social change through oral testimony, offering some kind of continuity and shared experience probed by individual speakers, but A Touch Of Sin is all rupture all the time, from its separate stories (linked by overlapping characters but unfolding from isolated causes-and-effects) to its always-unexpected violent acts.

  • Jia's films have always been observant, not instructive, and A Touch of Sin's most defining image is the one that closes the first arc, that of a previously abused horse trotting free from the master Dahai murdered. As with the characters, the horse, no longer whipped, but still yoked to a cart, has lost its most immediate oppressor, but is nowhere near free... [The film is] a haunting look at a system in which late capitalism and its provoked responses are equally terrifying and consumptive.

  • ...I find Sin's focus on gunplay, rape-revenge, and crime-and-punishment to be a rather dull, rote expenditure of his talents.... Even as I find myself bending over backwards to grant all due respect to Jia and to A Touch of Sin, I keep finding myself thinking back to Ying Liang's exceptionally powerful film When Night Falls, which addressed the Jang Yia case not by reenacting Jang's murders but by exploring their negative space, the repercussions on those around them, his mother in particular.

  • If Jia destroys subtlety in favor of immediacy, he does so not to simply paint the frame red with carnage, but to explore the thoughtless reasons why we reach for these killing machines in the first place... The end result is ambitious, disturbing, and kinetic, something akin to a modern day prophecy forewarning a plague of national rot and disillusionment already on its way to settling in forever.

  • Murder and weapons have entered Jia's world. But beyond any consideration upon "new" or "renewal," Tian zhu ding appears so strongly rooted in a set of themes, characters and concerns that run through Jia's filmography that its most striking beauties may well be in the consistency and strength of his film world.

  • Drawing its archetypes and iconography from cinema history, and resembling at turns transmuted versions of Tarantino, Rohmer, and Rivette, it yet never betrays Jia's acute sense of serene inquisitiveness into today's world. The integration of the New Wave's approach of re-presenting fiction as something engaged with by its participants and of 1960s/70s action cinema extend A Touch of Sin's reach beyond Jia's continuous references with Chinese cultural history and reveal the film's intricacy.

  • [It's the] biggest, grimmest, most visually impressive and most ambitious of the 2013 Cannes competition films to screen so far... [The film] loses a little momentum as it goes along. This is a long and challenging picture, held together as much as anything else by Jia’s often-spectacular pictorial sense and his instinct for locations where no normal filmmaker would ever shoot.

  • It’s a bit of a shock at first to see a Jia film open with a series of bloody murders, as he sets about grafting something altogether more pulpy and Kitano-esque onto his more customary naturalist aesthetic. But for me it worked, mainly for its ability – as always – to intuit and convey some sense of the larger processes shaping these violent individual responses to a hostile, alienating economic climate.

  • This foursome [at the center of A Touch of] embodies the twin themes of A Touch of Sin: Wealth leads to animality, and mobility is an illusion... A Touch of Sin, rather than auguring a new, “angrier” Jia, suggests an adventurous new strategy of melding the Mainland China of the news—such as the wave of ultra-luxe hotels and resorts catering to (especially) wealthy men seen in the fourth episode—to a heightened theatricality veering toward satire.

  • As the film moves forward, it accumulates detail and atmosphere, picked up by an attentive camera eye sensitive to the documentary moment... At the film’s end point, we are left with a portrait of a vast swath of society on the bottom end of China’s economic boom, collectively posing a final devastating question, as if the world were looking itself in the eye at long last.

  • “A Touch of Sin” is by far the best action film of the year. It is also, of course, much more than that—its ideological dimension is more substantive than anything Hollywood could ever hope to achieve—but the superficial gratification it offers is itself worth celebrating

  • A Touch of Sin... especially evokes some 19th-century tour of weird, new America in the throes of rapacious expansion. Yet Jia also shadows this modern world with Chinese literary references, deepening his film with past art that has dramatized injustice and revenge (and rebuffing the erasure of culture and history). Jia’s film does not celebrate its violence, as it skillfully tacks between the vividness of killing and the even clearer, empty sense that nothing is really changed.

  • Like Yellow Earth and Water Margin, A Touch of Sin is a sort of rain ritual—an attempt to reestablish bonds between our disconnected individual spirits via a new cinematic language.

  • Opening with a shocking act of violence and proceeding to explore the disparate lives of four individuals driven past the edge, Jia seems to be indulging in genre territory, as each story leads to spectacular bloodshed. Maybe “indulge” is the wrong word, because this roundelay of violence still exhibits the director’s masterful sense of control, revealing how the relentless nature of progress can consume ordinary lives. A perplexing, at times breathtaking film.

  • A Touch of Sin is defined by the idea that dishonesty is pervasive and inescapable, and correspondingly mounts a conspiratorial atmosphere in which everyone seems tied in some way to a mob. There’s a definite lack of subtlety in the elaboration of this theme... but even as some of Jia’s plotting is overly blunt, his aesthetics, in every dread-filled cut and offscreen sound, are carefully calibrated to induce a subtler cumulative unease.

  • In essence, it's a grisly, sardonic crime film, which the writer-director based off of news items that he found while scouring a network of blogs that report on violent crimes and political corruption... The news revealed a growling discontent brought on by an eerie schism between China's new ruling class and the working class, and the bloodshed he deploys here with startling, impactful effect reflects a refreshing, scathing fury in the filmmaker.

  • As the splatter and gristle accumulate, the bloodletting strangely begins to complement A Touch of Sin’s own uneasy place between commercialism and critique. There’s a sense that all the thematic messiness is intentional, a way for Jia to diagnose the ills of a country whose economic and social fabric is wilting under the effects of rapid modernization.

  • Jia may paint a grim picture of a corrupt, soul-crushing society, but his satirical mischief makes for a redeeming thrust. A Touch of Sin no more offers a prescription for a better China—and why should it?—than Taxi Driver could be said to set out a workable proposal for urban renewal in mid-Seventies Manhattan. But it’s a bracing and unexpected offering from a director we thought we knew.

  • A blistering fictionalized tale straight out of China, “A Touch of Sin” is at once monumental and human scale. A story of lives rocked by violence, it has the urgency of a screaming headline but one inscribed with visual lyricism, emotional weight and a belief in individual rights. You can feel the conviction of its director, Jia Zhang-ke — one of the few filmmakers of any nationality who weighs the impact of social and political shifts on people — in every shot.

  • With a discerning eye for the whiplash symbol, the director Jia Zhangke sets four shocking crime-blotter episodes in China’s Wild West landscape of pop-up cities and lays bare its psycho-political panorama of ruthlessness... In Jia’s methodically furious vision, the ambient violence of unchecked power erupts among the insulted and injured with a horrific yet liberating sense of destruction and self-destruction.

  • Like Koreeda, Jia has had recourse to some of the casual long-lens coverage we find in many contemporary movies, but certain shots gather weight through his signature long takes–especially shots holding on brooding characters. In all, we get a dread-filled panorama, with bursts of violence staged and filmed with an impact that reminds you how sanitized contemporary action scenes are.

  • Where [American films of 2013] have emphasized the excesses of the haves, Jia has zeroed in on the destitution, not only material but spiritual, of the have-nots and, in the process, achieved something exceedingly rare in the movies: a just explanation, without a shred of speculative self-indulgence, of why people sometimes do horrible things.

  • Tarantino and his fawning critics aggrandise comic-book style and comic-book-style morality into an impoverished, hypocritical conception of ‘art’; Jia artfully uses moments of comic-book amplification to heighten real-world ills, real-world injustices and the sometimes explosive but finally impotent rage of people trapped within a real world made distorted and grotesque by the predations of the powerful.

  • A more recent second viewing corrected my initial misimpression. In fact, the adoption by Zhao Tao of familiar wuxia poses after stabbing a sauna customer who’s been slapping her with a wad of bills for not prostituting herself is clearly designed to function as a Brechtian ‘baring of the device’ at the same time that it functions as an absurd fulfillment of the usual genre expectations. That is, it simultaneously invites our applause and makes us feel ashamed and/or embarrassed for applauding.

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