Some films feel very important and feel as though they grasp at a deeper meaning but also feel as though they can’t possibly reach that meaning to a wider audience because their scope is limited to a specific environment. You watch these films with an open mind, but because you are so far removed from the subject it all washes over like broadly stroked portraits of events that mean one thing to us (Violence! Greed! Corruption!), but don’t truly mean to us what they mean to those who live in the midst of it. Yes, we all experience the universal effects of things such as violence and corruption, but a film that dwells on the immediate effect felt by the Chinese can’t possibly probe that same feeling in the hearts of an American man who has never set foot on Chinese soil or read up on their political history.
Unless it’s filmed with a sense of awareness of that fact.
Sadly, for me, ‘A Touch of Sin’ failed to make these cultural plights feel transcendent. Instead, this felt like a blanketed wall of ‘facts’ that don’t translate to an audience unfamiliar with the core. Watching the film, it was a very beautifully shot film that portrayed many fragments of ugly souls but it never felt like more than that.
People do bad things.
For me, this is the main reason why a film like ‘A Touch of Sin’ doesn’t really work. In stringing along these fragmented stories, the film doesn’t really touch down firmly on anything. These stories, on their own, can be compelling (especially the opening story regarding a miner fighting corruption) but they don’t exactly mesh together properly. The stories feel disjointed, connected only through very broad terms, but overall they just feel slapped together without any real reason. I found the narrative structure to be a detriment to the film. Without much weight really given to these specific stories, they become harsh sequences of violence with no real meat on their bones.
This being said, the film is beautifully shot, and Wu Jiang delivers a marvelous performance as Dahai, the frustrated miner in the film’s most compelling story. I just wish that the film felt more grounded and not merely like a cheap attempt at capitalizing on an unhealthy political system. There is no real detail here, just random violent encounters that are there to expose human weakness, but with no developed backstory they feel hollow and unable to really do the good they could do. We learn nothing from these stories, take nothing away from them and in the end, they serve no real purpose.
It all feels so vain and underdeveloped.
I give the film a C. It fell so far from my expectations, but there is merit here and it is obvious to see. I only wish that it had taken the time to focus things in the right direction instead of merely settling for some shocks along the way.