Monday, January 06, 2014

A Touch of Sin

I think I say pretty much all I can say about A Touch of Sin in the review - it's pretty great, more so after you start poking at it, and it didn't hurt that I saw American Hustle right after and felt that one started sputtering with a half hour left, while A Touch of Sin is about five minutes shorter but has no dead weight.

It's at the Brattle through tonight (Monday, 6 January 2014), so if you're in the Boston area, haven't seen it, and are reading this the day it gets posted, get on that.

Also, this is another example of how Paris may be the greatest movie city in the world - this was at about a dozen theaters there during my vacation, for multiple weeks, but could only muster one screen X four days in Boston.

A Touch of Sin

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 January 2014 at the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagements, 2K DCP)

Considering the tales that have been told about China's film censorship bureau and the way that most of the films exported from tend to be set in a prosperous Beijing, the existence of something like A Touch of Sin is almost shocking; it runs completely counter to that narrative. Its four stories have their individual moments that shock, too, but the film is better than the moments of surprise it creates; it's an engrossing collection anchored by its intriguing characters.

It starts out as the story of Dahai (Wu Jiang), a much-liked resident of a coal town who aims to fight the corruption around how the village is being exploited but which he may be no match for. From there, it segues to that of Zhou San (Wang Baoqiang), a migrant worker who sends a great deal of money back to his family but may be rather ruthless in how he does so. Then there's Xiaoyu (Zhao Tao), a "sauna" receptionist having an affair with a married man (Zhang Jia-yi), and Xiao Hui (Luo Lanshan), a careless factory worker who at least meets a nice girl ("Vivien" Li Meng) when he takes a job as a waiter in a nightclub.

The four tales are connected, although writer/director Jia Zhang-ke doesn't make a recurring gimmick of how he does so: At one point a scene starts with one protagonist and ends with another, but the next transition is an almost completely clean break. It makes for an unusually balanced split between the stories being very individual and also unified by the same underlying issues. As impressive as the structure is, it works in large part because the four stories nestled within it are strong individually. Averaging a bit over a half-hour each, they have enough time to let the audience get to know the person and situation in question and also have a full story play out. All four are strong, too; one is unlikely to find oneself just marking time until the next one comes along in any of them.

Full review at EFC.

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