天注定), and I would be remiss if I didn't find a common, though strikingly different, feature used within the two of them. Both films, though incredibly violent, carry themselves very differently, and while I would say that I've had my fill of bloodletting for the foreseeable future, they also had me thinking about violence in general; what draws us to violence, in both entertainment/storytelling and in real life? Why do people seek violence in entertainment, and what causes others to seek and cause violence in their own lives? Rather than write a straight review of either film, I thought it would be more interesting to look at things within a larger scope, but also to examine violence with an eye trained towards Asian cinema, as it may pay to take a look at the climates of where these films originate or take inspiration from.
Serbuan Maut) was maybe one of the most inventive and entertaining martial arts/action movies in I don't even know how long. The raw, intense, and over-the-top violence was a shot of adrenaline to the action film community, who for so long had been overtaken by either big budget, Michael Bay-sized emotionally empty blockbusters or poorly financed, aesthetically bankrupt brawlers; and while it's hard to say that The Raid changed the film community at large, it at least changed audience expectations and proved that it was possible to elevate what would have been a simple genre film with sharp camera work, spare, yet effective plotting, and crisp editing, for just under a million dollars. A sequel was sure to follow, and wouldn't you know it, did, only three years later.
Sylvester Stallone) competition.
The point to all of this, I suppose, is that maybe it's not necessarily the violence itself that Gareth Evans is promoting so much as he's promoting the genre itself. Evans has stated in several interviews about the kind of film fan he is, and what films he grew up watching, and while corruption within the civil services is a real problem in Indonesia, The Raid 2's sly winks and deliberate homages to classic martial arts and gangster cinema almost alleviates it from any social responsibility. There is a scene in The Raid 2 in which one of the lead characters, Uco, is having an altercation with a singer/escort in a karaoke bar, and while the scene is momentarily unsettling, I quickly reassured myself that Evans, as a filmmaker, seems uninterested in displaying sexual violence the same way as he would a carefully choreographed fight scene. The point is to provide a moment in which the audience recognizes a character flaw and removes any doubt about Uco or his role in the film. The violence in The Raid 2, I conclude, though serious, is more suitably taken as a choreographed martial arts epic rather than an acute social examination.
Jia Zhangke's protagonists, by contrast, are real people, not reasonable facsimiles thereof. Rather than heroics, we face four real, unsettling, and often heartbreaking moments in which a person is drawn (or rather led?) to violence. In contrast to The Raid's nonstop barrage, Sin gives us time to breathe between every moment, and it's in contemplation of every moment that it's impact is felt. The death of a single factory worker, whose act is based on the Foxconn suicides of 2010, is more important than the swift demise of henchmen #s 14-32 in a single scene of The Raid. The days and moments leading up to the dramatized account of the Deng Yujiao incident and the moments after frame the act of violence in a way that is both anticipatory and pensive; as an audience, we are forced to contemplate Xiao Yu's actions, and it's hard not to anticipate them as we watch the film. Her segment comes at a place in the film where we already know what to expect, and if we are familiar at all with the actual event, it's a sick pit in our stomach as we wait for the pitch to finally turn feverish (or at the very least, where we find Xiao Yu's breaking point to be). As news stories and accounts of incidents file up, Zhangke's film becomes sadly predictable, and I think it will sit with many viewers as a chronicle of a time in China when life seems very cheap; what is so fascinating with Sin, though, is it's ability to keep us engaged through it's predictability.
Fukasaku's own Battles Without Honor & Humanity (仁義なき戦い Jingi naki tatakai)series could be seen as a kind of precursor to some of the violent films we see today, even beyond Takeshi Kitano. To Fukasaku, crime was unglamorous, and the yakuza, who up until then in film were often revered as folk heroes, were dirty, underhanded degenerates who killed, raped, and stole out of desperation and greed, and were not, generally, the heroic men of the people popularized in the the fiction of the time. Fukasaku had enough true accounts to ever mistake the fictional yakuza for what they really were, and combined with his documentary-like style of filming, to audiences of the time (I can only imagine Takeshi was among that audience), it was a shot in the arm both cinematically and socially. I again find it not such a stretch to imagine that Fukasaku's films were perhaps at least in some way influential to both Gareth Evans and Jia Zhangke, whose films celebrate both the cinematic and brutal humanity depicted as far back as the early 70s.
The difference between The Raid and A Touch Of Sin, I conclude, is in cinematic tradition. In the case of Evans, perhaps, originally a westerner, his connection to many social aspects of the cultures he viewed were superficial. That's not to say that Evans is a superficial director, and I actually would argue that he is a socially responsible filmmaker who in fact has great respect for the culture he represents in his film (allegedly, Sydney Pollack was said to have had very little respect for his Japanese cast while filming 1974's The Yakuza, and accusations of it's "promotion of 'yellowface' behavior" lasts to this day). Again, Evans' films celebrate the balletic momentum of the wuxia film traditions (to make an interesting note, even the title of A Touch Of Sin is a reference to another wuxia film, King Hu's A Touch Of Zen), combined with modern sensibilities and classic "one-upmanship" within the genres his films represent, and are therefore not irresponsible when measured against the films of Zhangke, whose films have always carried a social overtone, and have yet to veer too far from being specifically Chinese. One could argue that Evans could never make the films he makes outside of Indonesia, but I feel like his films have a little more of a global lens with which he views things. To adopt a culture and grow in one are very different, and though one is not less admirable than the other, it feels rather inescapable in terms of pedigree.