Review by Joseph Larsen
Legendary Japanese film director Takeshi Kitano unexpectedly comes to mind throughout Touch of Sin, the new film from Zhangke Jia who has long been considered China’s (and possibly the world’s) most important living filmmaker. The connection is not simply due to the opening credit appearance of Kitano’s production company Office Kitano (whom Jia has worked with on numerous past occasions), but rather in the violence that punctuates the proceedings.
Jia has never been one to utilize physical brutality, pointing his camera instead at lost, wandering souls within China’s ever-shifting social and political climates. But make no mistake, Touch of Sin‘s four main characters (from all corners of China) are as confused and dislocated as ever, mirrored by various animals of the zodiac that appear in many of the film’s most beautiful shots. It is a strange new world that has grown beyond past philosophies, whatever they might have been.
What makes this movie unique among Zhangke Jia’s filmography is that it finds the director at his angriest. No longer can his characters sit by idly while drowning in change. There are repercussions, and it is in them that a reflection of Takeshi Kitano can be glimpsed. The violence of both is brief and shocking, striking without warning and dissipating just as quickly. It can be almost amusing, as in Touch of Sin‘s reprehensible game of golf, and most certainly surreal, as Jia’s style and genre-at-play seems to transform at every instance of bloodshed.
This violence, however, has a tie to reality, as the four events portrayed here are based on true events. Jia claims that sporadic violence in China has increased in recent years, and I am inclined to believe him. His work has always reflected contemporary China like no others, and Touch of Sin feels no different. It is at once gorgeous, harsh, and esoteric. Such is the world.
Joseph Larsen currently works at the Uptown Theatre, curates movies at the University of Minnesota, and on occasion makes a film. He is particularly fond of VHS.