NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Seen at Odeon Panton Street, London, Monday 2 June 2014 || My Rating excellent
Jia Zhangke has proven himself over the last two decades to be one of China’s most intriguing directors, beginning with the microbudget, underground Xiao Wu (1997). He may have graduated to ‘official approval’ for his filmmaking, but his vision of modern China is still unsettling enough that this latest film has had trouble in being certificated for its local market. That might be attributed to the more forceful exegesis — it takes its form from four interwoven stories which are bookended by bloody acts of brutal violence — but really it’s more likely to be related to the way this violence is contextualised within contemporary society. If it’s not specifically a Chinese malaise that causes this violence, locating it there and basing it on real events, torn as it were from the headlines (or rather, the social media), can’t have been helpful. That said, this isn’t a documentary or even a docudrama: it has a very cinematic sweep, with much of its violence more indebted to traditional cinematic forms (wuxia for example, as hinted by the title’s evocation of A Touch of Zen) than to real life. It’s also simply beautiful to look at.