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Cannes 2013: 'Touch of Sin' a corrosive depiction of Chinese society

CANNES, France -- Films dealing with societal corruption may be nothing new for Western audiences. But in China, where the government keeps a tight grip on what appears on movie screens, that is hardly the case.

Which is why “A Touch of Sin,” written and directed by the veteran Jia Zhang-Ke, created a major stir when it appeared here in the competition.

Officially debuting Friday but screened for the media Thursday, “A Touch of Sin” is a corrosive depiction of the New China, an everything-for-sale society still figuring out how to cope with the dehumanizing effects of unbridled capitalism.

CHEAT SHEET: Cannes Film Festival 2013

In order to best portray an entire country growing faster than its socio-political structures can handle, a place where nothing speaks louder than money, filmmaker Jia has put together an omnibus film of four separate but linked stories, including one about a sex worker in a ultra-high-end brothel.

The kicker is that all of them are based on real events that the filmmaker says in the press notes “are well-known to people throughout China.”

The stories involve a miner who takes things into his own hands after a village leader keeps for himself profits from a state-owned coal mine; a migrant worker who comes to understand the power of owning a gun in a might-makes-right society; a receptionist at a sauna who snaps in an especially bloody way when a client assaults her; and a young worker whose despair at not finding a life leads to suicide.

FULL COVERAGE: Film festivals

Though some China watchers at the festival doubted that the film would be cleared for showing on the mainland, filmmaker Jia is clearly passionate about what he has done.

“Many people face personal crises because of the uneven spread of wealth across the country and the vast disparities between the rich and the poor,” he writes. “Individual people can be stripped of their dignity at any time.” 

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kenneth.turan@latimes.com

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