Thursday 22 February 2018

Film review: A Touch of Sin

At the IFI

A Touch of Sin
A Touch of Sin

Padraic McKiernan

FEW will deny that it has been a difficult couple of years for the 'running dogs' of western capitalism. A Touch of Sin director Jia Zhangke's insightful and compelling meditation on contemporary Chinese society reveals the extent to which the culture and ideology that threw up that infamous soundbite is no longer in a position to cast aspersions on the canine characteristics of your average western capitalist.

Lefty ideologues are loath to admit it, of course, but this provocative and fascinating piece makes a persuasive case for that position which suggests there are desires contained in human nature that remain beyond the reach of ideology, Marxist or other. With a title like A Touch of Sin, it shouldn't come as a surprise to read that the focus in this instance is on the darker impulses. Greed, lust and wrath are just a few of the so-called "deadly sins" that manifest themselves through the various characters that populate the four interlinked strands of this artful narrative.

The first strand charts the experience of a rural whistleblower who grows systematically more alienated by the corruption he witnesses at the level of his local village. Proceedings take a turn for the Tarantino-esque when efforts to take his complaints to a higher court prove fruitless. Other strands include the plight of a sauna receptionist compelled to take drastic measures to defend herself against unwanted attention from lascivious clients. The final section centres on the poignant attempts made by a factory worker to rise above his soul- destroying station in life. It doesn't end well.

Suffused with thematic depth and a lyrical visual flair, A Touch of Sin works brilliantly as both a soulful snapshot of contemporary China and a psychologically insightful study on eternal truths surrounding the human condition. Though ultra-violent at times, those in the market for quality arthouse fare are guaranteed to be enthralled.

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