A Touch of Sin is “a stage on which men and women fail to fulfill basic moral responsibilities, including acknowledging one another’s humanity,” according to Dargis (1). It identifies China’s global capital sins and their consequences for social inequality among the poor and oppressed. The film depiction of violence is examined in light of the wuxia tradition and the theory of objective violence in this article. Jia Zhangke, the film’s director, highlights the rise of killing in industrial China during the post-socialist transformation era. He establishes the political, economic, and historical contexts in which the events take place. Zhangke was influenced by the bloodshed depicted in Chinese media, which featured ruthless and cold-blooded murderers (Fan 1). It reminds viewers of the Mass Killings that took place in Kunming Railway Station in South of China that claimed the lives of twenty-nine people. The film overlaps the martial art with the contemporary stories of revenge, loners, and violence in the modern Chinese real-life incidents. Zhangke uses the film to explore the lives of a miner, migrant job seeker, a receptionist and factory employee that confront violence in the contemporary China. The four stories are set in distinct geographic locations to tell the tale of four deaths.
Dargis (1) relates the scenes in the movie to the Hobbesian war of “all against all.” Everyone is turning against the other because of the capitalist movement. The first scene overlays the traditional martial arts films because of the copious amount of bloodshed seen. It opens with a passing motorcyclist who pulls out his gun and dispatches three kids brandishing hatchets. The children sought to extort money from road users to survive. The drifter and his taste for robbery and firearm resurface in the least focused four narratives of the movie. Zhangke touches the nerves of his viewers by showing the explosion of cold blood murders in South East. The film portrays his sobering view of the discontent in China as the gap between the wealthy and poor expands.
The film’ wuxia stories have rational and monstrous protagonists. A Touch of Sin portrays them as Xia who exhibits a rebellious spirit lacking in the contemporary China. They are rational and monstrous which makes it hard to determine whether the stories apply to the premeditated violence in Kunming, the “China’s 911” (Fan). Dahai, a coal miner, was a former classmate the coal mining company’s corporate boss. He is one of the protagonists in the film who opposes the capitalist behaviors in his community. However, he later abandons his rational arguments and becomes a monstrous killer. He decides to disrupt the chief’s return celebrated by incentivized workers. This story shows that the issue of moral collapse is necessary to the film director.
The other common element in the modern wuxia tales in this movie is that the capitalist society drives the characters to the limit forcing them to take the law into their hands. The mining company boss forgot his promises to share profits and dividends with the owners. Dahai comes out as a protagonist and tries to convince the accountant to expose his boss. He was pushed to use his gun after he tried to petition the government and failed. Jia uses the compelling story of the receptionist in a sauna to show how the society can push one to the limit. A rich client assaults a receptionist during her working hours (Zacharek 1). In the film, Xiao Yu has given her lover an ultimatum to divorce her wife or leave her. When pushed to the limit, she set up her knife and used it on an arrogant rich massage customer. In the similar story, the married man’s wife hired gangsters to beat the mistress.
A Touch of Sin has visual lyricism, belief in individual right and emotional weight (Dargis 1). Zhangke uses the story of factory workers in industrialized China to show the emotional suffering faced by workers in a society where rights are violated, and misdeeds are increasingly common. Zhangke uses humanistic insight to show the depths of despair among the disadvantaged working communities. The director shows isolation, humiliation and desperation through the story of the fourth protagonist, a young factory worker who seeks different job opportunities to improve his life. He commits suicide because if despair. Zhangke portrays the state of internal migration. Xiao Hui spends his days away from his mother on a factory assembly line. His earnings cannot help him and his parent, so he eventually commits suicide.
In general, the violent stories in A Touch of Sin caused by the unregulated drive for riches and personal wealth shows how capitalism upends the traditional Chinese norms. The film is a wuxia about contemporary China. Zhangke tells the tales of four people affected by the dehumanizing effects of capitalism. Zhangke adds pulpier and copious bloodshed in his modern day wuxia.
Dargis Manohla. “A Touch of Sin, Four Tales From China by Jia Zhang-ke.” New York Times, 3 October 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/04/movies/a-touch-of-sin-four-tales-from-china-by-jia-zhang-ke.html?mcubz=0
Fan Jiayang. “Confrontng Violence in China.” The New Yoker, 6 March 2014. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/confronting-violence-in-china
Zacharek Stephanie. “A Touch of Sin Shows What it Means to be a Have-Not in Modern China.” The Village Voce, 2 October 2013. https://www.villagevoice.com/2013/10/02/a-touch-of-sin-shows-what-it-means-to-be-a-have-not-in-modern-china/