Banned by the Chinese government “A Touch of Sin” is a gruesomely violent and harrowing film. Following the lives of four separate individuals, director Jia Zhangke tells their tales in parallel.
The start of the film follows a man on a moped, until he unexpectedly guns down three people. He is not seen again until the second quarter of the movie. Then the film passes over to Jiang Wu, playing Dahai, the town activist.
Unsatisfied with his fellow townsman’s complacency for the short end they were handed, he is in the midst of a long campaign against the men who are in charge of his town. He fights a solitary battle. Trying to stand up against the men who sold village property are corrupt. The wealth the men Dahai fights against are in a stark contrast to the poverty the town is in. To not give anything away, his story fades away with violent and gruesome deaths. As do the tales of all four.
We then are spun around to see the man on the moped Zhao San, played by Wang Baoqiang, visiting his mother on her birthday. He is obviously unwanted in the town and appears restless. After he leaves his village, he sets out to a city where trouble is waiting for him.
Only later does the film reveal the focus of the third section is on Xiao Yu, a receptionist at a salon played by Zhao Tao. After giving an ultimatum to the man she had a love affair with, Xiao Yu is brutally attacked.
The last character in this series is Xiao Hui played by Luo Lanshan. A young man trying to run from his debt and life. Falling in love with an off limits girl is his undoing.
This film is in stark contrast to what is usually seen in American films. The deaths and violence, so often glorified in American movies has none of the usual frills or suspense music.
The fights are not heavily and intricately choreographed. Instead they are plain and simple. Making them all the more harrowing to see.
When a person is shot, there is not build up or dramatic release of tension. They are shot, and the blood and guts are everywhere. The impact this creates is tenfold compared to what it usually is with frills. Each time a violent scene appears, which is quite often, it is like repeatedly being slapped in the face.
The quite nature of this film helps to create an almost musical flow of time. The transitions between the four people are fluid and leave one curious as to what then happens to the person.
The camera work is exquisitely done, especially in the transitions. Panning over different faces in crowds, only to then move on to a different crowd keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat in anticipation. It was a brilliant compilation of camera work, acting and moving political and social ideas.
The writing, acting and camera work were all well done. I would recommend this film if you can stomach violence and tragedy. If not, then stay far far away.