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Instances of arbitrary violence, linked by a number of characters trying to lead their lives in modern China. “Modern China” being not the fancy and rich China, but the China torn by migrant work, split families and existential pressure to make a living, while seeking to stick to some form of old values.

There is the worker who cannot accept that the village did not benefit from the sale of a coal mine, the father-gangster returning to his family and leaving a trail of blood, the spa receptionist with the hope of a better life with a new husband, the factory worker who is despairing under his job situation.

The depiction of these people’s fates is always moving and powerful, even if the links between the stories do not quite pan out as coherently as you would wish (strange thing that the film received the screenplay award at Cannes, of all things). Jia Zhangke picked bits and pieces from the Chinese microblogging universe, events that every Chinese online citizen not only knows about, but most likely actually participated in, such as the public outrage campaign about the treatment of the spa employee stabbing a public official. He also adds more such items in the background, most notably (and as subtly as American films frequently inserting people watching 9/11 coverage on the tv…) the Wuzhen train crash. It is a statement about the everyday violence encountered in this often cruel society. Not just the rampages and the deaths, but also the social situation that build up to them, with often inhumane family situations and desperation being omnipresent in so many people’s lives.

As always: Jia Zhangke manages to be the narrator of today’s China. He has done it more elegantly before, but it is still a very powerful document and a mostly splendidly acted and beautifully shot piece of film making.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/a_touch_of_sin

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