Monday, July 7, 2014

A Touch of Sin

The first film I saw in 2014 was A Touch of Sin at the Roxie.

A Touch of Sin starring Jiang Wu, Zhao Tao, Luo Lanshan & Wang Baoqiang; directed by Jia Zhangke; Mandarin with subtitles; (2013) - Official Website

I've been so busy this year and this blog has suffered.  My backlog is over 100 films.

A Touch of Sin is based on true stories from the past decade or so in China; most prominently the Foxconn suicides.  The film consists of four vignettes.  There may have been bridging scenes between the section but there is little to no interaction between the main characters.

The first story involves a motorcycle bandit (Wang Baoqiang) who has a wife and kids at home.  I recall this portion the least.  It is followed by a coal miner (Jiang Wu) who is upset that his company president is skimming money from the mines and not spreading the wealth with the workers.  His efforts to effect change and file a criminal complaint are thwarted by corrupted officials.  After receiving a beating for his troubles, he exacts deadly retribution.

The most memorable story involved a receptionist (Zhao Tao, the director's wife) at a spa.  As the segment begins, she is giving her lover an ultimatum - leave his wife and break up with her.  After some wavering, he chooses the wife.  That has nothing to do with the violence that follows except it establishes the state of mind the character is in...and her lover cannot carry a knife on the train so he gives to the woman.  Later at work, an aggressive customer (perhaps the town's mayor) demands a "special massage" from her.  When she refuses, she is attacked and she puts that knife to use.

The final segment focuses on a factory worker (Luo Lanshan) who feels mistreated at his job.  Without proper work permits, he drifts from job to job (some criminal) until he ends up at a whorehouse.  It's one of those places where the girls where a button with a number on it and are kept in a bullpen (usually behind glass).  A customer looks them over and indicates his selection by the number; like a Chinese restaurant - "I'll have a number 14."  Anyway, the guy falls in love with one of the girls.  Things seem to be going ok until he witnesses his girlfriend performing her job.  I'm not sure why that would push him over the edge except he is the sensitive sort.   Whatever his motivation, he leaves the job and the girl to eventually commits suicide.

Director Jia Zhangke has created a film about people marginalized by society and unable to cope with the inequities of modern day China.  They lash out with violence and shocking results ensue.  A Touch of Sin feels a little clinical due to its episodic nature.  It is a 135 minute film but with four separate stories, there isn't enough time to develop each protagonist's character.  I could empathize with their situations but more character development would have made the film resonate more deeply within me.

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