A Touch of Sin

(China, 2013, 133 mins, DCP)
In Cantonese with English subtitles
CAST Zhao Tao, Jiang Wu, Wang Baoqiang, Zhang Jiayi, Luo Lanshan, Li Meng


Chinese master Jia Zhangke makes a bold play for greater accessibility and up-to-the-minute social relevance with his brilliant new film, a Cannes Film Festival prizewinner (for best screenplay) this year.

The film is made up of four interconnected stories. Gruff, powerful Jiang Wu plays Dahai, a coalminer in Shanxi who discovers his corrupt village chief is in cahoots with a rich mining mogul to swindle the villagers’ money. A snarling tiger banner and an antique shotgun play important roles as Dahai’s simmering anger turns to bloody revenge. Chinese comedy star Wang Baoqiang (ruthlessly competent, rather than comical, here) visits his home village near Chongqing to care for his family. Jia’s regular muse (and wife) Zhao Tao plays a martial-arts heroine, a switchblade-wielding receptionist whom local goons unfortunately mistake for a prostitute. Finally, Luo Lanshan and Li Meng are a worker and prostitute in the industrialized south; seeking romance, Luo feels the despair of expendable unskilled workers.

Jia (The World; Still Life; Unknown Pleasures) has never made anything quite like this, with its references to classic and modern Hong Kong action cinema and its dark vision of a violent society pushed over the edge into frightening bloodshed. Jia sacrifices none of his formal control or his artfulness, though, in this thrillingly shot drama of China today, ripped fresh from the headlines.

"A blistering fictionalized tale straight out of China, "A Touch of Sin" is at once monumental and human scale." Manohla Dargis, New York Times

"A bold, invigorating statement from a director who keeps reinventing himself." Scott Tobias, The Dissolve

"Intensely, consistently gripping." AA Dowd, AV Club