Sunday, August 3, 2014

Film Review: A Touch of Sin (2013)

A Touch of Sin (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...very effective and uncompromising."

Four bleak and violent tales of contemporary China.

A Touch of Sin is sort of like an anthology. The first story follows Dahai (Wu Jiang), who works for a coal mining company, and who has been cheated by the corrupt. The second story follows Zhou, who earns his living as a robber. The third story follows Xiao Yu (Tao Zhao), who works as a receptionist in a sauna and is involved in an affair. The final story follows Xiao Hui, who, after causing an accident at works, struggles in the workplace. Each story shares a common theme of violence, and each story attempts to relay a message or commentary. The ending is good -- it leaves you in a moment of contemplation, or at least it did for me.

I think A Touch of Sin works very well as a tense drama. However, there are a few moments where the film loses momentum and the film gets lost in translation. The first story, for example, begins with a very strong character and commentary. The second story, however, feels underwhelming -- not only is the pacing off, but it also fails to deliver a strong character or message. The third and fourth, especially the former, I think work very well in making a statement, and also work very well in revitalizing the tension of the first story. Generally, each story ends with violence, and each story reflects a different part of modern China -- it's a very bleak look, but also very effective and uncompromising.

On another point, I think the film would've been even more effective as a spiritual series, kind of like Park Chan-wook's Vengeance trilogy, instead of an anthology. You know, where a each film has a different set of characters and plot, but share a similar theme. The short runtime for each story in this film limits the amount of character development and buildup, which makes the climax less effective than what could've been.

The acting is great, occasionally phenomenal. Wu Jiang and Tao Zhao are fantastic. The film looks beautiful, despite the bleak and violent subject. The choreography for the few brutal action sequences is also refreshing, I particularly enjoyed the camerawork. The music blends well with the film. The English subtitles on the Netflix Instant stream are great -- I didn't notice any flaws. Although he is often limited by his short runtime, writer and director Jia Zhangke does very well in crafting his uncompromising vision; this isn't a film you'd usually seen one out of China, and I'm impressed just seeing it release.

Overall, A Touch of Sin is a very good film. It's a dark and tense look at contemporary China -- four distinct faces of contemporary China, in fact. It is often hindered by its short runtime and slow pace, though, and one story is underwhelming compared to the other three. If you're looking for something different from the region, and something that offers some contemplative value, A Touch of Sin is for you.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some animal violence in the form of a horse getting brutally whipped. (it might be fake, but I can't tell nowadays, so it's worth noting for animal lovers.)

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