Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Touch Of Sin

In the "mixed bag" category of going to obscure movies is that you can literally have no clue what you're about to see, or how good it is. I mean, you can't ever really know how "good" something is until you see it because only you can know how good something is in that all-important universe of yourself.

But you can get a sense of what other people think, and if you read reviews like the ones I aspire to write, you can get a sense of whether or not you'll like it regardless of whether the reviewer liked it. (That's always my goal, anyway.)

But sometimes nobody's seen it. At least nobody who's written anything. Or at least anything in English. Or, perhaps, the only people who have written things are completely untrustworthy. Which brings us to today's film in question A Touch of Sin.

This won "best screenplay" at Cannes. My response to that is "Huh?" Although I thought (and still think to a degree) that I missed a lot because there are many things that are doubtless significant in China that I did not get, I kinda wonder if this didn't win its award because nobody got it.

The movie is, in fact, an anthology of four stories. The four stories never come together, they never impact on each other, and they don't interact except maybe incidentally at one point. The fourth story may have had a callback to the first. I sorta thought so at the time, but I was also trying to find meaning in this overlong mess.

It's only two hours and change but the problem is, just as a story is gaining momentum and building interest, it ends and you're back to square one, not knowing what's going on or why. Worse is that the first story is the most interesting. An interesting character in an interesting situation does interesting things, gets himself in a position of incredible peril and then, story over. None of the rest of the stories achieve that level of interest.

The four stories are:

1. A crotchety old dude is dismayed by the corruption in his village and takes violent steps to "correct" matters.

2. A roguish man visits his home village, wife and kids, then goes out to work as a murderous purse snatcher.

3. A girl works as a receptionist in a sauna, where "sauna" is a euphemism for brothel, but she really is just a receptionist. A series of unfortunate events push her out into other work for a while.

4. A young man weighing his options in life goes for the increasingly easier ones but discovers this doesn't lead to any sort of happiness, meeting a violent end.

The theme, I guess, is violence, which may be is also why it won an award. But, I dunno, violence is just as legitimately the theme of the Transformers movies and I don't see those getting any awards.

At first I thought maybe it would be gun violence. I can't imagine there are too many guns in the hands of the peasantry in China so that might be interesting. But the last two stories don't involve guns.

Actually, before that, in the first story, I thought we might be getting a Chinese Death Wish—that would've been interesting. But then I thought "OK, guns." And then I thought maybe the stories would all be tied together, if only incidentally. And then, beginning to despair, I thought maybe there would be something in the final story that tied everything to the first three.

Something. Anything.

No joy. It's a pretty joyless film. The takeaway may well be "China sucks" which comes as no surprise to anybody. Communist countries always suck. Oh, wait, they're not considered Communist any more. Uh...totalitarian countries always suck.

I think the suckage is best exemplified by a scene in the first story where our main character injects himself with insulin. The movie takes the time to show him injecting the insulin (and his equipment is exactly the same as The Boy's, which I found interesting). It never came up again.

But unless the director is taking the piss, presumably against pretentious art films, or is just plain awful, there has to be a reason for showing this. Was it to show that this fire-breathing example of Chinese Tea Party-ism was dependent on the State he hated so much? Was the whole story a commentary on keeping your blood sugar in line?

Who the hell knows?

Not great. Fine production values, acting, camera work, including lovely shots of China, and the same sort of atmospheric oppression you get from all movies that are based in CommunistTotalitarian countries.

We couldn't get up the interest level to actually hate it. But The Boy and I would definitely not recommend.


  1. Although I thought (and still think to a degree) that I missed a lot because there are many things that are doubtless significant in China that I did not get...

    BINGO! The media in China was informed to not even comment on this film.

  2. I think you missed the point of the last two stories.

    The third one dealt with mistresses, which are VERY common in China. To a lesser extent corruption. (A lot of (all?) saunas and massage parlors in China are also fronts for prostitution.)

    The fourth story dealt with migrant factory workers. They often have no job protections (arbitrary rulings, training with no pay) and have parents who want nothing but money from them.

    Then people wonder why they commit suicide.

    Why do they commit suicide? Because of everything in the film. People can't have meaningful, spiritual lives when everything around them is corrupt. They snap.

  3. Well, this goes back to my whole "China sucks" thesis.

    But, yeah, hard to relate to. Like, maybe it was made for a Chinese audience that will never see it.

  4. I told the guy from China at work about the movie and he thought it was good. That's 100% of the target audience! (n=1)


Grab an umbrella. Unleash hell. Your mileage may vary. Results not typical. If swelling continues past four hours, consult a physician.