You better believe I was excited to be asked by my sister in law,
Susan who is a Dean at Baldwin Wallace University to attend
two of the many diverse international films shown over this
past weekend. The series was held from February 6 – 14th.
The two movies were so disparate they don’t even seem to
belong in the same world we live in. One was more factual
and sad in its depiction of culture, class structure and society.
The other was one that left you feeling strong, independent
and yet vulnerable to feelings about relationships. Both had
a similar thread of how choosing the ‘right path in life’ can
make a difference in life’s outcomes.
The Chinese film was called, “Tian Zhu Ding,” which translates as
“A Touch of Sin.” There were four ‘acts’ with true stories embedded
within the plot. The news stories were results from tragic incidents.
The film ends by circling back to a few of the main characters. Each
individual portrayed a character who either committed violence or
were affected and changed by the actual happenings.
The countryside setting in the beginning of the movie displayed
beautiful snow-capped mountains and the outside of a coal mine.
There are many struggling people in this remote town. Someone
is offended, and ultimately angered, by the owner of the mine.
You do not find out until another section of the movie how far
this man will go as he takes out his revenge.
Part of this true story includes two men being shot and killed
going down the mountain on their motorcycles. It looks to the
observer to be a possible ‘hit job.’ I think this part of the first
story gives the viewer the sense of, “Life is futile.” This random
act of violence against the two men just made this section of the
film feel more desolate.
The town tries valiantly to display a friendly and positive reception
for manager and his wife. A noisy, discordant band, cheerleader-like
people wearing costumes and one loud, angry and discontented man
await the arrival of the mining company boss, who is also part of the
royal family. The main problem making the miner seethe and stew
is that if the family can afford a plane which arrives on the runway
where the gathering is prepared to entertain them, then he feels the
manager should pay the workers better. The disparity between the
classes seem to be the root and meaning behind this part of the film.
Later after the film, there was a reception where one of Baldwin
Wallace University professors said they do have unions in China.
She speculated possibly not in the rural provinces, though.
The small town’s welcoming committee and reception is declared
over by the manager and the crowd disperses. There were a few
people who shook hands with the manager and tried to ingratiate
themselves with him. His wife doesn’t shake hands but smiles and
appeared aloof. The royal manager of the coal mine ends up beating
the upset man with only his wife and his pilot as witnesses. This
is due to his having embarrassed the royal manager by expressing
his disapproval of the way the mine was managed. Being ‘called out’
by a subordinate on his wealthy habits in front of the group threw
him into a rage.
This poor soul is so badly injured he must go to a hospital.
The second story is one where the injured, malcontent man visits
a woman who he has loved since he was young. You can see from
their facial expressions how much they care about each other. She
has been married for some time. She stops preparing dinner and
leaves one of her sons in the kitchen doing his homework. The
film never shows the two in any of unfaithfulness. The viewer
assumes it is unrequited love. It appears they have never followed
through with a physical affair. The woman won’t leave her husband
but does explain to the man she has known her whole life that she
has loved him since young. She would go with him, if only he would
change. She says he will never amount to anything, only in Chinese
translated into English subtitles.
There is a possible theme of redemption in the beginning of this
story. The audience may feel there could be hope for this man who
is distraught and not taken seriously in his coal mining job. It seems
like the man is thinking about changing his ways. He does have a
wife, it is revealed and she is going to have to live with the haunting
vengeful acts he chooses to commit.
Unfortunately, he is angered by this hardened position of his
childhood sweetheart. He goes on to commit atrocities, killing
more than four people. The scene where he gets his rifle and goes
to the royal palace is almost unbelievable. It made me feel like I
was watching a Quentin Tarantino film. This true news story is
not given a date or time but the review and article about the film
describe this as an actual murderous series of events.
The married woman in this story will re-appear in the fourth story.
The third story is one with a couple of young people. The central
character in this ‘act’ is one young man who is trying to get out
of the coal mining town. He has a friend he contacts using his cell
phone, who affirms there are more jobs in the big city. The friend
upon his arrival calls a man who comes to pick him up in a fancy
car. He is taken to a place of entertainment where young people,
both men and women, are given costumes to wear.
They are paraded in front of potential ‘buyers’ of their ‘human wares.’
One strange element is a shortened version of an Army uniform with
the bellies of the young girls displayed and they do ‘march in’ and
the visitors sit on rows of couches ogling them.
The clients may buy ‘time’ with the youths or buy ‘acts’ performed,
(implied but not seen.) This becomes sad since the two attracted to
each other, spend time while they have a day off from work. They try
to act like a normal couple on a date. There are smiles and moments
where you have the belief, or hope this may be the first happy ending
of the three stories shown so far. They spend time looking at things at
a local market, see statues of Buddha the young woman is interested
and the ‘boy’ purchases one about a foot tall. They go to a parking lot,
where they sit in someone else’s car, kissing while the Buddha is shown
left on the hood of the car as rain begins to fall upon the windshield.
There are symbolic meanings to several parts of each story.
The girl reluctantly tells the young man she has a three year old
daughter. She poignantly express when you work in the ‘sex trade’
you really don’t believe in love anymore. Her mother is raising the
This ends the first half of the 3rd story. . .
There is another young woman who is working in a public sauna.
This place is where sexual favors can also be bought. She is ‘only a
receptionist’ she tries to explain her employment position three
times to a couple of men who are trying to persuade her to engage
in paid sexual favors.
Both these stories come to violence. In the first one, the young
man throws himself over a balcony many stories high in the city.
He had just gotten off the phone with his mother complaining he
had not sent money since he left the coal mine. You sense he had
hoped to find a good job and make enough money to send home
to support his mother. This compounded with the disenchantment
with the city, the reality and rejection of the young girl sends him
into making his final choice.
The second story in this section of the movie, has the accosted
young woman lashing out with a knife and attacking, defending
herself against the two male potential rapists. The word, “no” and
slamming the door three times against them did not stop their
attempts to change her mind.
Once the man is bloody with several stabs into his chest and arms,
the other man runs away. She leaves the establishment in bloody
clothing and is seen wandering out on the road leaving the city in
The last story shows the woman from story number two having
left her husband to become a ‘preacher,’ in the form of a street
performer. She must have decided the violent rampage of her
childhood love was a turning point. There aren’t any explanations
for the film’s character’s actions.
Sometimes, there was silence in many scenes.
Conversation seemed more to move the pieces of each story
along rather than connect people together.
The performance play has a religious revival tone to it. The main
female entertainer is asking members of the audience to come
forward and ask for forgiveness. The message in this seems to be,
‘Your actions will help you to find your path in life.’
The wife of the disgruntled coal miner who killed the royal couple
(who also managed the coal mine) in their palace is present. Along
with the young woman from the sauna. She had just come from a
“Fortune 500” company (displayed on the sign by the tables of
job interviewers). In this scene, the young girl has shorter hair,
wearing a simple outfit. This is not thread bare, but the attitude
of the female interviewer shows disdain towards her. She didn’t
have the necessary qualifications, both educational and experience,
to get the position. She walks dejectedly with her head looking at
the sidewalk out of the building and heads towards a park.
Following the sound of the play leads the unemployed woman to
come across a performance upon a small stage set up in the park.
There is a feeling of hope amongst the participants in the play.
Their exuberance is catchy and they seem to impart a purpose to
their presentation. Several aimless people have wandered upon
the colorful scene.
The city onlookers listen to the motivational messages given.
Those who have felt like life has become too daunting and
overwhelming. It ends with an open-ended optimistic sense
of well being.
I would say the fourth story’s theme is about redemption.
This Chinese film was every bit as violent as any of ones made
in the United States. I had a preconception that it would show
resolutions made and more detailed explanations given for the
intense situations in the four stories. The outline of the plot lets
the viewer know there will be “four shocking and true events.”
The way the stories are ‘strung together’ doesn’t make it easily
understood. If you don’t play close attention, it might be hard
to determine each character as they are not always wearing any
If I had been at home watching this on a DVD, I would have
rewound it more than once.
If any movie is possible to remind you of this film to one of ours,
I would say, “Crash.” That film took several story lines where they
converge into situations. Characters were loosely drawn and then
acted and reacted to the events in each movie. This Chinese film,
“A Touch of Sin,” is reminiscent of the way lives unravel and
The director named Jia Zhangke has written and directed two
other films that a reviewer considered, “Masterpieces.” They are
called, “The World” and “Still Life.”
A movie reviewer for the magazine, “The New Yorker,” Richard
Brody says, “This is one of the best and most important directors
in the world.” In a brochure for the film festival, others label it as
“daring,” “poetic” and leading the country of China, after the real
life crimes, into a period of “self-examination.”
I thoroughly enjoyed the Chinese reception with various dishes of
noodles with vegetables, sushi rolls, egg rolls and fortune cookies.
There were some kind of custard wrapped desserts which some of
us wondered if this were a contribution of ‘cannolis’ representing the
Since the last movie we saw was from Italy.
I listened and was humbled by deep thoughts the Chinese movie
drew out of professors and visitors.
*I would not recommend watching this powerful movie due to its
feeling of hopelessness and despair.
Here are a series of thoughts I wrote down before I compiled
this into a ‘review’ on “A Touch of Sin:”
1. A diabetic injects himself with insulin and proceeds to eat
2. The only two pieces of art work were a beautiful Tiger and
the Mother Mary holding Jesus. The costumes of the band
players and the different plays within the film were gorgeous.
3. Taking justice into his own hands, the one who was beaten
by the royal who managed the coal mines, was accompanied
by waving a wall hanging of a tiger over his rifle.
4. Discontent/Dissent/Inequality of the masses was a recurring
theme throughout the film.
5. A “Fortune 500” company is in the 4th section of the film
and it is titled, “Oasis of Opportunity.”
6. The three languages spoken in China are given as Mandarin,
Shanghai and English.
7. Everyone, at every level in the film, has a cell phone and
modern technology is apparent throughout despite poverty
in the mining village.
8. The scene with a man whipping his horse was upsetting.
9. Taking justice in their own hands seems to be the way
those who felt their lives were unfair was their only way
of equalizing their lives.
10. Smoking occurs in buses, trains, restaurants and hotel
11. Men dress as women to entertain in the fourth story.
12. The movie left me feeling very dissatisfied and discontent.
*No violence was taken on my part.
“Viaggio Sola” is called, “A Five Star Life.” It actually is not the
same meaning as the Italian title would be, “Traveling Alone.”
This is a fun spirited Italian movie about a woman who is one
of those ‘mystery shoppers’ or ‘customers’ to elegant and formal
hotels around the world. The time she is in an Asian country
watching on the veranda a lovely belly dancer while sipping wine
and looking across at a man also a guest at the hotel is an example
of escaping reality.
Her own apartment is sparingly decorated. Her sister is married
and has two girls. Her brother-in-law plays for the Italian symphony.
She takes her nieces out to eat once in the movie, along with making
reservations of adjoining rooms for their accompanying her on a
The girls like checking the mattress for bed bugs, counting towels
and the other parts of the reoccurring list the women orally goes
over as she types the answers into her laptop.
The girls ‘act up’ and use toilet paper in the bathtub which brings
out the character’s lack of understanding children’s impulses. She
yells briskly at the girls, which later one of them can’t go to sleep
and ‘wants to go home.’
The voice over narrator throughout this film is telling the elements
of a proper “5 star” place.
There are amusing times when the main character is disembarking
from a trip to greet a good guy friend at the airport, where she offers
to ‘cook dinner,’ which he makes a disdainful expression which is
comical, like a, “You know you don’t know how to cook!” look.
While at his apartment, you notice he has candles and nice cooking
utensils as he prepares her a meal.
There are a few monkey wrenches thrown into the Italian film’s
plot line, which I won’t reveal because I do recommend this film.
It is beyond the simple story drawn here. It is not at all negatively
completed as the similar George Clooney film, “Up in the Air” was.
That movie ending was quite disconcerting, since I saw a future in the
romance being shown between George’s character and an airline
In the Italian film, “A Five Star Life,” you will see gorgeous scenes of
the following international cities: Paris, France, Gstaad, Morocco,
Berlin, Germany and China. Each has lavish hotels and delicious meals
displayed to wish you were the person hired to critique and be pampered.