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A Touch of Sin [DVD]
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An angry miner revolts against the corruption of his village leaders.
A migrant worker at home for the New Year discovers the infinite possibilities a firearm can offer.
A pretty receptionist at a sauna is pushed to the limit when a rich client assaults her.
A young factory worker goes from job to job trying to improve his lot in life.
Four people, four different provinces. A reflection on contemporary China: that of an economic giant slowly being eroded by violence.
Mandarin/Cantonese with English subtitles
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Such subject matter is hardly original from a cinematic viewpoint – think Travis Bickle or Howard Beale – but is perhaps less common given the country context (indeed, the fact that Jia’s film got made at all would, of itself, seem to be a noteworthy achievement). And, despite the film’s obviously sombre undercurrents, there is a good deal to admire here in Jia’s and cinematographer Yu Lik-Wai’s impressive visual presentation, which gives us a palpable sense of the country’s vastness, from huge, modernist concrete jungles to more remote, rural communities. Of the film’s four threads, I found the first, centred around the retribution sought by a disillusioned mineworker whose workplace has been exploited by its new, capitalist owner, to be the most powerful, whilst those featuring an exploited female sauna worker and a young man working as a waiter in a bizarre, retro-communist ‘brothel’ revealed the deepest human connections and empathy.
On the more negative side, the film does have an, at times, rather rambling narrative, whilst stylistically A Touch Of Sin is something of a mishmash of social-realism interspersed with bouts of, admittedly stylish but, at times, gratuitous, violence. There is also a handful of scenes involving mistreatment of animals that many will find objectionable. Not an unqualified success, for me, therefore, but a film well worth seeing for its ambition, look and educational value.
The first story for me was possibly the strongest involving localised corruption, naked greed and all the trappings of needing to `save face'. We also have a nice dose of righteous retribution. Other stories involve a drifter, a brothel and also a fair bit of animal cruelty. There is not a lot on show here to advertise modern China as a must go to destination. That said it is very well acted, beautifully shot and clearly well directed. It runs to 130 minutes and I did feel it could have been shorter, but that might be just me. It is Cantonese, Mandarin and a bit of English with ok sub titles.
Hard to say I liked this one, there was so much nastiness and cruelty, but that was the point of the film and at time the observational quality of the film(s) makes it feel like a documentary and at others it is clearly contrived. So a mixed bag on offer here but still a worthy effort and if you like modern Chinese films then you could do a lot worse than this.
You cannot help but feel sorry for the Chinese poor who are living under the emerging rich elites as the country swings from communism to capitalism albeit still in a police state where the masses are controlled. The 3rd or 4th story for me was utterly heartbreaking: a young guy gets a job in an upscale brothel and falls for a female, pretty sex worker. They realise due to her profession any relationship would not work. Later he serves a patron some fruit and leaves the room, only to pass the young woman he fancied as she enters the room to give oral to the client.
Another scene towards the end was set in a massage parlour: a female receptionist refused a clients sexual advances from a corrupt official. He then proceeded to beat her for what seemed like ages shouting how he could buy. I found this scene really hard to watch.
You will need to concentrate on this but it's well worth a view - if only to show us there is another side to China beyond the glitz of Beijing, Hong Kong or Shanghai that westerners will experience.
There is a scene in this film 13 minutes in where a horse is whipped so hard that it tries to escape from its harness and when it can't it falls to the ground under the beating. It is very hard to see a way in which this could be simulated and a google search suggests it is not the only moment of animal cruelty in the film. If unsimulated this should come with a warning (if it should be sold at all) as it would be illegal to film in many other countries and many will find it upsetting and immoral.
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