Chinese Director Jia Zhangke Reveals Tentative Release Date for ‘A Touch of Sin’

Jia Zhangke

Many had questioned whether the auteur’s Cannes best screenplay-winning film would get permission to be shown in Chinese cinemas, due to its provocative subject matter.

After much speculation among China watchers and international cinephiles, Chinese director Jia Zhangke announced that his Cannes best screenplay-winning film A Touch of Sin will be released in China in early November.

In a post to his Weibo account (China’s version of Twitter), Jia suggested the release is still somewhat a work in progress, but expressed confidence it will materialize, writing: “We will care for and protect A Touch Of Sin and escort it carefully to the cinemas in mainland China to make sure it gets in. It will be released at the beginning of November. It is not a long time, but we still have a long way to go.”

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One of the leading figures of China's so-called "sixth generation" of directors, Jia's early work, such as landmark films The Pickpocket (Xiao Wu, 1997) and Platform (2000), were produced independently, outside of the Chinese system. Without censorship approval, and given the country's non-existent infrastructure and limited cultural precedent for independent movie viewing, the projects were little seen in mainland China despite the critical plaudits they earned abroad.

Beginning with The World (2004), Jia began to work within the Chinese system, partnering with the Shanghai Film Group, and its trailblazing chief executive Ren Zhonglun, who has been an influential ally of the director. Those projects received the green light from the government to be shown at festivals -- Still Life won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2006 -- but still went virtually unscreened at home.

A loosely linked four-part narrative set in contemporary China, A Touch of Sin features jarringly violent stories based on recent real-life news items of some infamy in the country. One episode presents a tragic suicide at a Foxconn-like factory (assembler of the Apple iPhone); another tells the story of a miner who goes on a murderous shotgun rampage against the corrupt local leaders who have exploited his village. There are bold references to China's rampant prostitution, corruption, violence, and the 2011 Wenzhou high-speed train accident, which killed 40 and was covered up by the government.

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When the film premiered at Cannes – to considerable buzz and mostly positive reviews – it was lacking the usual censorship approval frame that precedes the opening credits of Chinese movies, leading many to speculate at the time that Jia might not have gained official permission to exhibit the project.

But in a lengthy interview with the Hollywood Reporter, the director was adamant that he had both gotten permission to show the film at Cannes and expected it to screen in China. At the time, he was targeting an October opening date.

Should A Touch of Sin indeed get a limited release in November -- without drastic cuts -- it will represent a milestone of liberalization for the country's culture industries. 

Clifford Coonan in Beijing contributed to this report.