TIFF 2013: A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke, CHN/JPN)

A stylistically polarizing effort, A Touch of Sin travels the path of least resistance in exploring socioeconomic and political unrest in mainland China, intermittently employing wuxia ideologies among sporadic bits of violent brutality. Skillfully woven together, a series of four distinct vignettes are told in succession, each of which sport their own sense of discernible individuality as basal unifying nods to each other exist to emphasize the wraparound misfortune of these respective livelihoods. From initially and unsuccessfully tackling local corruption in a peaceful manner to supporting one’s family any which way he can, the aforementioned violent outbursts rarely seem out of place as desperate final means of righting what’s wrong.

Narratively speaking, A Touch of Sin rarely breaks new thematic ground as it opts to instead play the sympathy card, our establishment of substantial or tenuous emotional bonds with the central characters playing a heavier-than-average role. Needless to say, the film’s aptly humanistic flair overpowers agreeably thin jabs at cultural commentary, most of which serve only to justify the necessarily brash last-ditch efforts these individuals are driven to take. An appropriately nuanced melancholic tone forgoes unevenness, mirroring the film’s unilateral intentions in addressing its easily identifiable inspirations.

As a unified whole, the film decidedly sidesteps propaganda to embrace an accessible, frequently hard-hitting emotional underbelly. Tapping into the psyche of the affected civilians at its core, A Touch of Sin is a fine example of solid, region-centric storytelling that asserts its strengths over that which the more critical could – and will – predictably gripe about. Whether you do or don’t condone the jarring violence permeating each bout of conflict resolution, A Touch of Sin‘s presentational confidence and effectiveness transform it into an identifiably engaging effort, even despite the issue of segmented narratives varying in terms of the strength of their parts.

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