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‘A Touch of Sin’: Chinese lives agitated by capitalism

Out-of-work coal miner Dahai (Jiang Wu) thinks violence is answer. | KINO LORBER

Out-of-work coal miner Dahai (Jiang Wu) thinks violence is the answer. | KINO LORBER

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‘A TOUCH OF SIN’ ★★★1⁄2

Dahai Jiang Wu

Xiao Yu Zhao Tao

Zhao San Wang Baogiang

Xiao Hui Luo Lanshan

Kino Lorber presents a film written and directed by Jia Zhangke. In Mandarin with English subtitles. Running time: 125 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at the Music Box.

Updated: December 23, 2013 1:45PM

Drawing on four news stories, writer-director Jia Zhangke portrays the plight of workers in the new China. Set in four provinces, “A Touch of Sin” is humanist critique of the country’s turn to capitalism.

Jia’s longtime cinematographer Yu Lik-Wai contributes allusive landscapes seen in their past collaborations, including: “24 City,” “Still Life,” “The World” and “Platform.”

Market forces and personal integrity conflict in this masterful drama. Jia’s agenda evokes both nostalgia for old ways and outrage at the new inequity. His four characters resort to impulsive violence as a remedy: an unemployed coal miner fires a shotgun, a bandit makes his living with a pistol, a sauna receptionist defends herself with a knife, and a young man exits the workforce by self-destruction.

The title “sins” range from a dirty privatizing deal to incidents of cruelty; one man whips a workhorse to its knees; another repeatedly slaps a woman in the face with his fistful of cash. Other sins will answer those sinners.

Jia shows two excerpts of Chinese opera where justice is sought. An indelible last shot frames an audience at one performance, recalling key shots of audiences in his earlier films. Jia implies his own viewers must resolve the spectrum of sins on view.

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