Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Reflecting the Horrors of Chinese Society

Jia Zhangke with his wife and actress Zhao Tao
Mainland Chinese director Jia Zhangke scooped up the best screenplay award at the close of the Cannes Film Festival for A Touch of Sin.

The movie is based on four true stories of poor people who are driven to acts of desperation that shed light on rampant corruption and exploitation in China.

"Cinema makes me live," Jia said as he received his award on Sunday. "China is now changing so fast. I think film is the best way to me to look for freedom."

Jia, 43, was born in Shanxi, a poor province, where he started making films about low-life characters including pickpockets, thugs and prostitutes.

A Touch of Sin is not far from this theme about social inequality and how the characters end up turning to violence as the solution.

In one, a miner tries to hold corrupt village leaders accountable; a migrant worker, returning home, gets hold of a firearm; a sauna receptionist who is involved with a married man, must endure humiliations; and a young man who moves from a thankless factory job to a thankless service industry position.

The seeds of these stories -- the pedicurist Deng Yujiao with her fruit knife come to mind -- were in the news in the last few years and were widely talked about on Weibo, which is what intrigued Jia to further explore them and create stories around them.

"These are people who feel they have no other option but violence," Jia said. "There's suddenly a big dose of violence in everyday life," he added. "But the problem is that new events keep coming, so old ones keep being forgotten."

In researching for the film, Jia visited the areas where the incidents took place and interviewed people who were familiar with the events.

There's been a lot of chatter about how violent A Touch of Sin is, but Jia is unapologetic.

"Violence has long been neglected in Chinese culture," he said. "We don't talk about it, we don't understand it. In a way movies can do a lot in terms of inspiring people to confront, to understand, to feel violence. If you don't allow violence to be discussed in movies, we're just going to become a more violent country."

It's a frightening thought, but Jia is bravely showing a mirror in front of China's face to reflect what is happening in the country. A Touch of Sin is a shocking and sad commentary on modern society in China, but it is something it must see and confront.


  1. I'm looking forward to seeing Jia Zhangke's latest. Years ago, I caught a screening of his "Still Life" and was truly wowed by it. I've seen had the good fortune to view three other of his works -- all on a big screen here in Hong Kong. Have to admit to having a couple more of his films on DVD but not yet watching them since I'm hoping to also catch them on a big screen some day.

  2. I want to see it to know what the four stories are, but then too scared to see the violent scenes!!! So glad there are still some gritty Chinese directors trying to show what's really going on in China...