Seeking out the

5000 greatest films

in a century of cinema

A Touch of Sin
Tian zhu ding

Directed by Zhangke Jia
Produced by Shozo Ichiyama
Written by Zhangke Jia
With: Wu Jiang, Vivien Li, Lanshan Luo, Baoqiang Wang, Jia-yi Zhang, and Tao Zhao
Cinematography: Nelson Yu Lik-wai
Editing: Matthieu Laclau and Xudong Lin
Music: Giong Lim
Runtime: 130 min
Release Date: 11 December 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1
Color: Color
Touch of Sin demonstrates the best approach to an anthology film. Director Jia Zhangke (Xiao Wu, The World, Still Life) tells four thematically connected stories set in four different parts of contemporary China. The characters are as different from each other in terms of their social status as the cities and villages they live in, but they are all at violent crossroads. With these stories of corruption and hopelessness, Jia not-so-subtly suggest that the new China is also at a violent crossroad. The movie marks a rather shocking change of pace for the filmmaker known mainly for lyrical surrealism--it is as brutally violent as anything from Scorsese or Tarantino. This exquisitely rendered violence never comes off as gratuitous and is well in line with the societal critique of Jia’s other pictures. Indeed the comparison to Scorsese or Tarantino could just as well be made for how well the themes of the movie adhere to its unique structure. While all four narrative threads flow one after the other, we are certainly left with the memories of each preceding story as the next one unfolds, and there is connective tissue that prevents the movie from feeling like four short films tacked together. Where as most anthology movies have stronger and weaker episodes, Touch of Sin is compelling from start to finish, with each tale and each main character strikingly different from the others. We know right off the bat that every one of these mini narratives is going to end in acts of bloody violence but we still have no idea when and how it will come, and the various motivations of the main characters are fascinating to contemplate. Apparently all the stories are based on true events, but the film is clearly an artful fiction steeped in the history of martial arts movies from both China and Japan. It is a film that both celebrates and condemns violence in the best cinematic tradition.