Composed of four stories adapted from real-life incidents of violence spanning the first decade of China’s 21st century, Jia Zhangke’s 2013 film A Touch of Sin presents violence not as isolated incidents of individual crimes but as something fated to happen as a result of profound changes brought about by contemporary Chinese modernization and urbanization. In the film, Jia puts the whole society on trial by using theatrical artifice and by weaving seemingly unrelated characters into a larger tapestry of social ills and moral “sins.” Formally, A Touch of Sin marks a new chapter in Jia’s filmmaking career. The film is self-reflexive, anthologizing, and formally eclectic, marked by profuse self-references as well as an attempt at aesthetic hybridization. While demonstrating a style that is unmistakably his own, Jia experiments with techniques he felicitously adapts from literature, theatre, painting, and other art forms, both Chinese and Western.

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