DIFF Review: A Touch of Sin


Director:Jia Zhangke

Cast:Jiang Wu, Luo Lanshan, Meng Li, Wang Baoqiang

Running Time:133.00


Blisteringly original, darkly funny and stylishly violent, A Touch of Sin is the best film I saw at the Dallas International Film Festival. 

Though the four stories Zhangke tells are tangentially connected, they're all about characters pushed to the brink, and they all weave together to show a picture of a China that has grown uglier and more calloused as it's embraced capitalism and Western culture.

At least that's the viewpoint of writer-director Zhangke, who's been called the "Chinese Tarantino." I'd disagree with that comparison, mainly because he's a lot more focused than Tarantino ever was. But he's still prone to sprawl and stylized violence. Each main character commits an act of violence, though all are victims of circumstance.

The first story I found to be the most compelling. Dahal (Jiang Wu) is disgusted by his former colleagues who have privatized the formerly public lands and mineral rights of his village, buying up Maseratis and private jets while the workers can barely afford bikes to ride to work. His protests are met with laughter and even physical intimidation. But this is the clearest presentation of Zhangke's thesis: China's move toward capitalism has not only corrupted those most capable of gaming the system but has left behind hundreds of millions of workers in the process.

If there's a fault in the film, aside from its bloated runtime, it is that Zhangke goes heavy on the symbolism. In another vignette, a businessman literally beats a woman with a stack of cash, insisting that his money can buy anything. That's too obvious for a movie that doesn't need those big moments. Still, it packs a wallop throughout.

What's most distressing about Zhangke's vision of China today is how little people care when they encounter violence. It's just expected that anyone who tries to go up against someone of a higher station will get beaten or killed. Violence is just a way of life.

A Touch of Sin is stuffed to the gills with story, character and criticism, and for patient, thoughtful viewers, it's one of the most rewarding experiences of the year.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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