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With: Jiang Wu, Zhao Tao, Wang Baoqiang, Luo Lanshan
Written by: Jia Zhang-ke
Directed by: Jia Zhang-ke
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Mandarin/Cantonese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 125
Date: 01/03/2014

A Touch of Sin (2013)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Sin' Deep

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A Touch of Sin is the latest from China's Jia Zhang-ke, who is considered one of the finest filmmakers working today. Jia's films often deal with politics in China, specifically the country's newfound materialism after the Cultural Revolution, as well as the threat that government and giant corporations pose to the lifestyles of regular, working-class people. But he also tells his stories with a sly wit and keen personal observance, making them entirely universal.

On the surface A Touch of Sin seems very different from Jia's larger-scale films Platform or The World, or his more intimate films Unknown Pleasures and Still Life. It's his bloodiest and most pointed film, focusing on four separate, but ultimately related, incidents of violence.

The first segment focuses on scowling Dahai (Jiang Wu), forever wearing his old army trenchcoat, who begins speaking out against the corrupt village chief. Unfortunately, his behavior draws unwanted attention. In the second episode, a mysterious, stoic, cold-blooded killer San Zhou (Wang Baoqiang) returns to his small town for his mother's 70th birthday party.

Xiaoyu (played by Zhao Tao, Jia's wife and muse) is having an affair with a married man in the third segment. She works as a greeter in a red light district massage parlor, where, one night, her lover's wife shows up. Finally, Xiaohui (Luo Lanshan) wanders from job to job until he winds up at an expensive hotel and falls for a beautiful prostitute.

In each of these stories, characters reach a breaking point, which results in some kind of bloodshed. But these outbursts are at least passionate and human; the behavior of the materialists in power is even more chilling.

Oddly, the movie has a final shot similar to Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, a sea of faces, a community of sad, lost people. These final images suggest that these people, too, are looking to material worth to solve their problems. But Jia has shown us that it's not so simple.

In one unrelated, but connective image, a man mercilessly beats a horse hitched to a cart. The man eventually meets an untimely end, and the horse is shown roaming free, but still hauling the cart. It's a sly, effective idea, encapsulating the movie's themes.

Jia's films often receive spotty distribution in the United States, and they have never been submitted to the Academy for consideration for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Don't miss your chance to see this unique and brilliant film while it's here.

Kino Lorber has released A Touch of Sin on Blu-ray, which I believe is the first of Jia's movies to be available in the high-def format here in the U.S. (all of his films are worth looking into). It contains no extras except for optional English subtitles and five trailers, one for this and four other Kino Lorber releases. Picture and sound quality are very strong, and the image emphasizes the highlighting of reds that I did not notice my first time around. This is an excellent film, and very much worth seeking out.

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