A Touch of Sin (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
April 29, 2014 by Dennis Amith
“A Touch of Sin” manages to portray a darker side of humanity when pushed to the limit. While common to see in films from other countries, the subject matter is not usually portrayed in China and the film has still not been shown publicly in China due to its violent nature. But it is a rarity in Chinese cinema that showcases violence, disillusionment and corruption in a surprisingly, audacious way. Cineaste will no doubt appreciate that Zhangke Jia has crafted such a film and for those who have wanted to see something different from Chinese cinema will find “A Touch of Sin” to be shockingly captivating. Zhangke Jia’s “A Touch of Sin” is recommended!
TITLE: A Touch of Sin
FILM RELEASE: 2013
DURATION: 130 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:35:1 Aspect Ratio, Mandarin and Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Subtitles
COMPANY: Kino Lorber
RATED: Not Rated
Release Date: April 18, 2014
Written and Directed by Zhangke Jia
Produced by Shozo Ichiyama
Co-Producer: Xiaojaing Gao, Eva Lam, Jinaping Qian, Dong Zhang
Associate Producer: Bin Jia, Kazumi Kawashiro, Shiyu Liu, Yuji Sadai
Music by Giong Lim
Cinematography by Nelson Yu Lik-wai
Edited by Matthieu Laciau, Xudong Lin
Art Direction by Weixin Liu
Wu Jiang as Dahai
Lanshan Luo as Xiao Hui
Li Meng as Vivien Li
Baoqiang Wang as Zhou San
Tao Zhao as Xiao Yu
A brilliant exploration of violence and corruption in contemporary China; (Jon Frosch, The Atlantic), A TOUCH OF SIN was inspired by four shocking (and true) events that forced the world’s fastest growing economy into a period of self-examination.
Written and directed by master filmmaker Jia Zhangke (The World, Still Life);one of the best and most important directors in the world; (Richard Brody, The New Yorker), this daring, poetic and grand-scale film focuses on four characters, each living in different provinces, who are driven to violent ends.
An angry miner, enraged by widespread corruption in his village, decides to take justice into his own hands. A rootless migrant discovers the infinite possibilities of owning a firearm. A young receptionist, who dates a married man and works at a local sauna, is pushed beyond her limits by an abusive client. And a young factory worker goes from one discouraging job to the next, only to face increasingly degrading circumstances.
When it comes to Chinese cinema, Zhangke Jia (“Still Life”, “The World”, “Platform”) has been on the forefront of creating films with storylines that tend to buck the trends of traditional Chinese cinema.
May they be visually or through heartwrenching or shocking storylines, its the examination of culture in China that Zhangke Jia does with efficacy because not many other filmmakers are bound to follow. But it’s for the fact that Zhangke has become a rebel with his latest film.
It goes beyond the usual studio wanting to obtain profit, Zhangke Jia wants to take on the socio-economic impact on Chinese culture.
And with the release of “A Touch of Sin”, Zhangke’s film has not only received critical praise, it also earned him a nomination for a Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, including winning an award for “Best Screenplay”.
It’s a clear departure from his past films as it is among his most violent films that he has made, but it’s his exploration of violence and corruption that captivates viewers because it’s a film that you don’t normally see in China. And despite the success of the film overseas, the film was censored and not released in public cinema.
And now the controversial Chinese film has been released in the U.S. courtesy of Kino Lorber.
“A Touch of Sin” is a film that revolves around four different tales in modern-day China.
The first scene is an opening statement as a group of young thugs try to rob Zhou San (portrayed by Baoqiang Wang) who is riding his motorcycle. And as these teenagers have their hatchets ready to kill, they demand money from Zhou San, who grabs a gun and kills the teenagers with no sense of guilt.
The film then shifts to a storyline of one man named Dahai (portrayed by Wu Jiang) who believes the political leaders of the village are corrupt and making his life miserable by taking land of the people and getting rich off it.
Wanting to complain about the ill treatment he has received, Dahai is shocked that nobody wants to help him. When he comes across the wealthy boss of the village, instead of praising him like the villagers, Dahai announces that he will expose him and the result is that he is beaten severely by the village leader’s men.
Seeing how the villagers have become enamored by his wealthy and material things, he tries to fight the corruption of his village the best way he can, with a shotgun.
The second tale features the opening scene character of Zhou San, based on real life murder suspect Zhou Kehua. Zhou has come home to visit his family and mother. He provides for his family the best way he knows how, to kill and steal from his victims.
The third tale revolves around Xiao Yu (portrayed by Tao Zhao), a woman who is a sauna receptionist having an affair with a man. Waiting for the man to divorce his wife, he leaves her with his prized knife that he leaves with her, since he is not allowed to bring it inside the airport.
She tries to survive the best way she can but the wealthy think she’s a piece of meat they can have their fun with. And when they refuse her answer that she is not a prostitute, how will this woman fight back? The story is based on the real life Deng Yujiao incident about a woman who did pedicures and was harassed by a man and fought him off with a knife. The incident was known in China because as the real life woman was arrested for murder, millions of people expressed outrage that a woman fighting for her life against a man who could have raped her, was arrested and charged with homicide.
The final tale revolves around a young man and a young woman. The tale is based on the Foxconn suicides (where 18 Foxconn employees killed themselves due to low wages and literally worked in a labor camp) but in this case for the film, about people who slave for their job but want to attain some type of happiness in their lives.
“A Touch of Sin” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 aspect ratio). Despite some minor banding, the picture quality of the film is very good. Detail are crisp and clear, skintones are natural and for the most part, the cinematoraphyf or this film is brutal but yet gorgeous.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“A Touch of Sin” is presented with a Mandarin and Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack with English subtitles.
Dialogue for the most part is crisp and clear, as with the more violent scenes in the film but this is a dialogue and musically driven soundtrack with occasional ambiance.
“A Touch of Sin” comes with a theatrical trailer.
While Asian cinema has featured its full share of violence and brutality, may it be a film from Japan, Korea and Thailand, in China, while we are used to seeing violence in terms of swordplay or martial arts, “A Touch of Sin” ushers in a side of Chinese cinema often censored.
From showcasing flawed characters in troubling circumstances, we have seen the immoral and amoral acts of characters in films such as “Natural Born Killers” and “No Country for Old Men”, but in China, these type off films are rarely made.
But for filmmaker Zhangke Jia, he is respected because he manages to portray a side of Chinese culture that many directors never want to touch. For his 2000 film “Platform”, Zhangke wanted to show how Western influences started to make its way into China. For his 2004 film “The World”, the film showcased disillusioned staff of a theme park that featured scaled representations of famous landmarks around the world.
And as he tackled disillusionment and loneliness, he also explored troubled relationships as he did in his 2006 film “Still Life”.
But for “A Touch of Sin”, it was a film unlike anything I have watched come out of China.
Sure, we are accustomed to watching violent films come from Japan, Korea and Thailand but rampant, random violence? “A Touch of Sin” is shockingly brutal.
From it’s first story about a man looked down for trying to fight for his right to be heard but everyone treating him like a parasite. He absolutely loses it and gets his revenge the only way he knows how, a shot gun and a process of elimination.
The sheer randomness of murder and brutality exhibited in the first half hour in the film pretty much sets up a feeling that “A Touch of Sin” is a film that is going to stray to unknown territory.
In the second tale, we watch a criminal who returns to his hometown to visit his wife. Having watched actor Baoqiang Wang in “Lost in Thailand”, it was quite interesting to see him play a thief and killer. This is a man who makes his money stealing and we don’t know too much about the man, only through scenes with his wife and son. We watch his first encounter with his son, no loving hug but a pinch to the young boy’s cheeks to make him cry. The scene establishes Wang’s character as uncaring and we also see him as a man who is more about the money and a life of crime is his way of life.
The third tale featuring actress Tao Zhao (real wife of director Zhangke Jia) is rather interesting because she is a woman who is in love with a married man. Wanting a better life of happiness, we see how quickly life changes for the woman as she goes through her own troubles. And what happens when wealthy men think they can do what they want with her because they think she is a prostitute (when she is not).
Rather fascinating because the real story in China featured a woman who defended her life against being rape by fighting back with a knife. Millions of people on the Internet voiced their opinion that the woman fought in self defense and led to her being released from prison and how public pressure worked in this case. While the film doesn’t explore the post-murder aspect, it does explore how a normal person can be driven to murder. Unlike the previous two characters who did it out of mere randomness, the woman did it out of self defense. Or was it?
The fourth tale continues director Zhangke Jia’s consistency of showcasing stories of disillusionment. People who try to look for better ways of life by taking on various types of employment, a young man falls for a woman who’s job is to please men. But these two people vye for freedom but due to the constrictions of the life they live, they can never be free.
“A Touch of Sin” is a brutal, violent film. But the way it is handled, director Zhangke Jia and cinematographer Likwai Yu manages to create a film that shows tales in different areas of China, to showcase the grittiness of this area courtesy of its flawed, unsettling characters. But it’s the unsettling state of China that has concerned Zhangke Jia and the movie he wanted to make. From employing “Wuxia” form to the characters but wanting to show what happens when survival is threatened and how people can react when their pride is threatened.
As for the Blu-ray release, “A Touch of Sin” is gorgeous. Featured in 1080p, the film showcases detail and a whole array of colors. While not perfect, as there are some scenes of banding, the film does look great on Blu-ra7. The lossless soundtrack is not immersive, but the dialogue and soundtrack are crystal clear. Unfortunately, there are no special features but the trailer.
Overall, “A Touch of Sin” manages to portray a darker side of humanity when pushed to the limit. While common to see in films from other countries, the subject matter is not usually portrayed in China and the film has still not been shown publicly in China due to its violent nature. But it is a rarity in Chinese cinema that showcases violence, disillusionment and corruption in a surprisingly, audacious way.
Cineaste will no doubt appreciate that Zhangke Jia has crafted such a film and for those who have wanted to see something different from Chinese cinema will find “A Touch of Sin” to be shockingly captivating.
Zhangke Jia’s “A Touch of Sin” is recommended!
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