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A Touch of Sin - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Tian Zhu Ding

China 2013


Jia Zhangke

Jiang Wu
Zhao Tao
Wang Baoqiang
Luo Lanshan
Vivien Li Meng
Zhang Jia-yi
Liu Lu
Han Dong
Wang Hongwei
Wang Qiang

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A Touch of Sin

Story: Dahai (Jiang Wu) is upset about his corrupt superiors. A mine that belonged to the village has been sold several years ago, yet the community has never seen any money from it. When Dahai's boss suddenly turns up at the village in his private jet Dahai can't turn a blind eye on the corruption at the company anymore. He wants to complain about the current situation, but his colleagues only smile at him and he can't do anything against his superiors. Until he takes his shotgun from his cabinet...
Zhou San (Wang Baoqiang) returns to his home village since it is his mother's birthay. However, no one there wants to deal with him, because he has actually found a liking to his life as a professional killer in the big city...
Xiaoyu (Zhao Tao) works as a receptionist at a massage parlor. She has an affair with a married man and demands of him to finally choose between one of his two women. Moreover, she can't stand her life as a receptionist anymore, when she is molested by two of her customers.
Xiaohui (Luo Lanshan) has a mother who is constantly squeezing money out of him and he also has trouble at his work. Thus, he changes his workplace and gets to know the prostitute Lianrong (Vivien Li). But this life also doesn't seem to suit him.

Review: It's not hard to tell why "A Touch of Sin" is such a favourite of critics. The range of motives isn't small, but more than that it is the way they are adapted in a cinematic sense which makes the director push all the right buttons with his tragical and cold pictures. After all, this drama partly feels like a documentary and because of this unusual amount of realism the movie manages to affect you particularly strong. Still, Jia Zhangke has to face the criticism that his stories are sometimes dragging on at a leisurely pace, but there are enough shocking moments that succeed in shaking you up again. Accordingly, "A Touch of Sin" might not really be an entertaining movie, but one with unusual weight that picks up social and moral issues in modern China.

A Touch of Sin - Film Screenshot 11

First off, it might be irritating that the film consists of four seperate stories, whereas the individual characters portrayed are in no way connected to one another, although a few overlaps point out that all of the stories are taking place in the same China. A China which apparently is no fictitious one. Every single one of the stories could have really taken place this way. Being the actual glue that holds the different pieces together are a coherent atmosphere and motives that are complementing each other or get repeated as if a documentary is being shot in which the focus is put on certain social deficits. And doing so we naturally don't just accompany one single individual. Since we can never really feel any connection to the protagonists on an emotional level, for this the directing is too detached, the four stories in fact fit in well into one common frame.

A Touch of Sin - Film Screenshot 12

The at all times very natural sets also add to the movie's high level of realism. Director Jia Zhangke manages to contrast the modern and traditional in his pictures and oftentimes he works with symbolism that isn't obtrusive at all. He also doesn't choose the easy way and depict everything modern as merely bad, yet it can't be denied that he mainly wants to highlight how China's growth has made moral values fall by the wayside and causes many to fall victim to loneliness despite close-packed large cities. Money is the only friend you can have in life, at least that's what the protagonists hear from others, because the individuals of the four stories are either poor or can merely make ends meet. In terms of morals people are degenerating more and more and this is also reflected in Jia's bleak pictures.

The bleakness of the world the protagonists are trapped in is almost unbearable and somehow China seems to be lifeless despite giant crowds and loud night clubs. And even this world is starting to crumble around the four individuals. Wu Jiang is embodying a quiet man of justice who at some point is forced to act - and this in a very extreme way. Wang Baoqiang ("Kung Fu Jungle", "Lost in Thailand") depicts the most mysterious personality while Zhao Tao is responsible for a reference to the namesake "A Touch of Zen". And the replacement of this small, similar sounding word gives also a good impression of a dominant motive in the film: the sin of money, consumption, corruption and unequally distributed wealth.

A Touch of Sin - Film Screenshot 13

As already stated the movie's motives are multilayered. Jia's pictures are always working with contrasts, one of the most apparent ones being the green fields and the smog covered city in the background. Next to the realism of a documentary the movie also has something lyrical about it. Accordingly, content and wrapping are just right. But the stories sometimes unfold too slowly and especially in the third one the sails have lost their wind. Every time, though, the story's progression starts to drag a shocking scene is featured which often enough is quite bloody. If the characters weren't so emotionally detached, "A Touch of Sin" had to be considered a must-see. But there still is an exceptional atmosphere and the thematic richness along with strong social commentary that deserve praise.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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