A Touch of Sin

Jia Zhang-ke’s films are valued most here in the West for their glimpses of a changing China and their acute observations of predatory global capitalism; one comes to them expecting a large story writ small. This drama (2013), collecting four tales of deadly violence across mainland China, lives up to that expectation to some extent, though limiting each protagonist to a more compact time frame heightens one’s sense of them as individuals, and their impulsive actions remind us of the power of human agency. A former soldier seething over political graft in his little village, a transient who develops a serious gun fetish, a woman whose affair with a married man turns sour, a young man sinking into despair as he bounces from one dead-end job to the next—Jia’s primary concern here is the solitary suffering of his characters, punished to the point where they can’t take anymore. In Mandarin with subtitles.