A Touch of Sin : A Film Review

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Director Jia Zhangke-Ke. (China)  2hrs 10 mins.  Cert. 15.

Chinese Chapters

Unprecedented Access
It starts off with Village corruption and takes in Corporate destruction.
This is an unprecedented film giving insight and exposure to a view of contemporary China in a Le Haines type social immersive narrative.
Through small incidents, for the most part true, it conveys a vast continent of great beauty, varied landscapes and a pioneering drive that is seemingly relentless.
There has been a protected idealism in revolutionary China which concealed very harsh conditions resulting in a slow industrial revolution.
Nevertheless China was first to come up with iron steamships and has many other world changing contributions to our modernity. It does not differ a great deal in national terms, being a combination of provinces and integral uniquely individual development patterns. Think ex. Germany, Ex. Soviet Union and the identity trials are deadly similar.

This film is a present portrait of four stories of four people each living separate lives. Seldom do they overlap and only as a loose interplay never likely to have occurred is used as continuity.
1st Act
Jiang Wu as Dahia
The first and most violent part is the unsettling governance and treatment of the villagers in a Mining operation which has been wrested from them by corruption. A one man crusade against the new owner and his backhander conspirators outrage the lone coal miner who now lives in a false environment, with immigrant labour and a disintegrating village which is turning into a Wild West frontier town. This is a compelling first act with the acting and realism shockingly face on. The miner is played with increasing compassion and unleashed rage by Jiang Wu, broad of back and morals which themselves are quickly unravelling, so we are seeing him in effect ditch his protocols and enter into the heinous world of destroying things.
An irreligious uncoupling like a broken down train carriage in a siding, he casts off this shell and enters another modern and not so modern world fast tracking his own form of justice.
2nd Act
Wang Baoqiang as Zhao San
Second up is another worker who travels by motorbike and has a preference of being a highway robber and city thief. He is driven by a thrill seeking narrative. It allows him to leave his family and mail back earnings.
He eventually returns to see the extended family at New Year when migrants are on the move all across China and in buses, in cavernous rail stations.
He has a natty tatty desperado dress sense with huge leather knee pads akin to equine saddle kit and other bravado flourishes.
Youth, senility, hard worn faces, fleeting lives cross each other’s paths In the astonishing transit places as the director shares this sensation of movement in through the many provinces..
The action is China’s restless and indulgence in the forbidden fruit of meaningless symbols of assumed sophistication and Nuevo riches.
The outlaw of this second installment returning to his hometown rejects their hanging onto the rudiments of agrarian life and their still intact community. He possibly resents their hard, comfortable, honesty and ancient ways, as he witnesses the China of many provinces, link arms in a culturally divisive plan, also watching as it fails to reinvent itself having lost its way with the grave digger, capitalism. He takes flight again leaving his son with a memory of a mysterious father.
3rd Act
Zhao Tao (Wife of Director) as Xiao Yu
In the third act we come across a couple who have an affair which is across one marriage and a young woman whose city life is working in a sauna and whose lover is reluctant to cast of his other life. When they split, putting off once more, a new life, he in a carriage, her alone on the departure platform, from a state of the art railway station with the future pointing down the endless platform into an out of focus future.
A breathtaking shot which is a kind of stop and observe the undercurrent of the worlds progress. It echoes the over confidence found in recent years when several high speed trains went off their concrete freeways killing many. In returning to her work she is accosted by a sauna client while on a break, the recurring pestering drives her to a radical solution and gIves the film one of its stand out visual statements and  she is on the move again. Her womanhood is violated mentally and physically in this prostituted existence.
Direction : Credible Case for China
Director  Jia Zhang-Ke is quick to visualize the baseless and disintegration of identity as China carries on with as yet unrealised outcomes. While the West has had its comeuppance and is trying to address war and greed, China is in a limbo type state as demand for goods and production slows, and as Western scavengers exploit the ready made labour force and mineral wealth in businesses as diverse as solar wind energy, to pharma exploitation. Jia Zhang-Ke is doing China a huge favour in much the same way cultural ambassadors Lang Lang and Wei Wei give global credibility to the underlying, ever present ancient sensibility and innate confidence which all struggle to build upon. He depicts the human cost and the visceral amnesia or wrong diagnosis of the Chinese condition. It also may be exporting its youth as many
It is as comparable as all human condition enveloped in its own backstory.
4th Act
Li Meng as ???? and Luo Lanshan as Xiao Hui
When we are now thoroughly immersed in the pace and revelatory passage of this wonderous vision of misunderstood place, it brings forth a youth perspective. We meet up with a young journeyman factory worker who finds routine and repetition jaw droppingly gruesome. He inadvertently causes harm and, given what seems a reasonable punishment with bearable consequences, he takes off on his own to another city and enlists help which comes in the form of a ‘waiter’ ‘youthful Conceirge ‘ and rapidly becomes entranced with his beautiful co-worker who comes from the same town. Hunan. This youthful ‘lotus flower’ Li Meng has a handle on social media ‘fish wanting water’. Both these young actors are dangerously stoic and accepting of their circumstances and they rely partially on each other’s company to extract the real human out of each of them instead of the false acted part of this well heeled corporate aimed sex hotel. Li Meng very capably shows the contrasting realities and the newcomer Luo plays his role with conviction. Fish needing water is unnervingly accepting of her fate and like a restaurant fish tank, her companion girls swim up and down their sink pool.
When he returns to DongGuan the industrial city where Foxxcon is located he sees nothing changed. When Li and Lou had off time she took him to a Buddist Monastery to which she took her soul for nourishment. It is her greater self standing for her and as her, the spirit is present and the only religious consideration on this film’s which in itself spoke volumes.
There is as Dostoevsky sense of vast spaces in China as in Russia where Churches/Temples reach upward above the skyline, seen distant as a village signifiers, yet empty places on arrival in the main. The spiritual life invisible and untended.

Conclusion
####4
The China Element
It, the extra element, is the landscape, culture and cultivation. Amongst the construction which provides a continuity of focus depicting the ongoing China rush, much of it incomplete, in progress. The cinematic metaphor for the forces of change is a convincing motif of Jia Zhang-Ke learned talent, using it in tunnels, roads carved through beautiful stone, pristine stations city edges unmade, (like Joni Mitchell Hissing of Summer Lawns, stylized album cover, confrontation of nature and cityscapes coming to mind) – one LA based reviewer took the USA disparaging tack, – conspicuously lame and off beam, considering (perhaps because of desired detachment) with his apparent Chinese origins, – that this was a drama without psychological or social truism. It is a bit rich coming from the gross nature of Hollywood or the US and his conclusion that it was a mish mash is a case of art denial. Probably never made a Film in his life and under appreciates the vexatious problematic individual and national generaliseations necessary for this media.
It is a memorable important part of the developing Chinese cultural landscape and though heavy on the depression and violence conveys much.

John Graham

22 May 2014

Belfast

QFT Friday 16 May until 22 May 2014 and other good cinemas.
Sorry for late review – didn’t spot this one coming.

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