By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2013--A TOUCH OF SIN  Send This Review to a Friend

It is hard to believe that “A Touch of Sin,” written and directed by Jia Zhang-ke, and showcased as a main attraction in the 2013 New York Film Festival, could have been made in China. It is a devastating portrait of aspects of life in that rapidly changing country. It brilliantly and ruthlessly depicts levels of corruption in political and personal lives, and thereby grabs our attention. The film apparently is meant to be depressing as well as revealing and it certainly scores on both counts. As a result, it is also deeply involving and is a stirring example of excellent filmmaking.

There are four story lines and tying them together are episodes resulting in outbursts of violence. One man battles against the corruption by local officials, a theme related to some of the headlines we have been seeing coming out of China lately. Another man, a loner, has brutally shot men trying to rob him and continues on his personal journey of violence.

A woman who is the mistress of a married man, who has promised to leave his wife but is stalling, revolts against the deception and lying. Especially poignant is the story of a young man who is smitten by a woman who works as a prostitute in an elaborate brothel. But he has no work prospects and love is doomed from the start. But the relationship offers the flicker of human warmth in the midst of futility.

The excellent cast includes Zho Tao, Jiang Wu, Wang Baoqiang and Luo Lanshan, as well as assorted character actors playing realistic types.

The director ingeniously relates the stories and comes up with striking set pieces. Particularly memorable is a factory where workers are beaten if they are caught taking time out from the work routine, and where an injury is made to be the fault of a worker rather than of the machinery.

The brothel is a colorful one that recalls the lore of French whorehouses of yore that catered to all sorts of tastes, in this case creating a train atmosphere for someone who enjoys having sex in a railway car. Also, young prostitutes are paraded in one scene not in slinking dress but in red guard-style uniforms. It is obviously meant as a wry comment, as is a statute of Mao decorating a town where corruption runs rampant.

“A Touch of Sin” is a powerful film, all the more amazing for being filmed in parts of China. A Kino Lorber release.


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