If you aren’t familiar with the name Jia Zhangke, you should be. The Chinese director recently won Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival for his hyper-violent entry A Touch of Sin. By now you’re very aware of the rising film market that China presents, and in case you forgot, it’s currently the second largest in the world. Unfortunately for China, it doesn’t offer much in the way of globally accepted creativity. Last week, we reported on the Beijing International Screenwriting Competition, which sought American writers for film projects involving China’s capital city. With Jia’s win at Cannes, China’s film industry may finally be getting the global recognition it desperately wants/deserves.
Jia is known for being socially relevant in his films: The World (2004), Still Life (2006). As a result, much of his earlier work was produced without the official approval of the state. In addition, Jia has yet to have an official release in China, even after co-producing his films with the state-backed Shanghai Film Group.
Acting as a dramatization of real life events, A Touch of Sin follows the accounts of four storylines that intersect at various points in the film. Each story is based off of recent and controversial news in China: a miner who attempted to bring down the corrupt leaders in his village with a shotgun, an immigrant who took up armed robbery, a sauna receptionist who stabbed a patron who tried to buy sex from her, and a young man who killed himself in an iPhone factory. There is also a fare amount of references to the Wenzhou train accident back in 2011, an incident that killed 40 people and was covered-up by Chinese authorities. When news of the cover-up broke, a scandal erupted which lead to a series of censorships in the Chinese social media and press.
In an interview following his Best Screenplay win, Jia explained that, unlike his previous work, A Touch of Sin has already been confirmed for an official release in China. Not only that, but Jia is confident that the Chinese government won’t completely censor it. He makes a bold assumption here, considering China’s vast censorship agenda when it comes to its films, as well as the violent content and social/political commentary of his latest film. Jia hopes that A Touch of Sin will be a first step in changing China, and goes on to say, “Corruption is the most talked about issue in China. It’s a subject that the Chinese government and Chinese society can no longer afford to face.”