Doling out as many bare-knuckle blows to its characters as it does to China’s corrupt political system, Wrath of Silence is A Touch of Sin that’s not afraid to be dramatic.
Smashed Chinaby Gus Edgar
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Navigating the murky Chinese underbelly laid bare in A Touch of Sin is Wrath of Silence, Yukun Xin’s melodramatic alternative. It begins with a child playing in the mountainous countryside with a flock of sheep – a tranquility that, much like the boy himself, goes missing soon after.
The film’s title isn’t just a reference to the boy’s disappearance: clattering into frame is his father (Song Yang), a martial arts expert who bit off his own tongue in a fight. His plight in needing to find his son takes up much of the film; a narrative fed with brawls, slapstick and a brooding sense of growing despondency. This plotline intertwines with an investigative drama-cum-thriller, where a meat-obsessed kingpin (Jiang Wu) and his seedy gang are caught up in a legal case that threatens to pull them under. The film’s climax supposes that these two threads have more of a connection than at first thought, but this is a miscalculation from Xin, an attempt to supply the film with the significant emotional heft that it doesn’t need, coming across more as a cheap shock tactic.
It is a rare misstep from a film that’s so careful in balancing both its narratives and its conflicting genres. Eschewing A Touch of Sin’s scathing realism, Wrath of Silence is decidedly and gloriously overblown, Jiang Wu chewing up the scenery (the scenery being stark red panels and lavish ornaments, screaming at its audience that Wu’s character is both rich and evil). Yet its melodrama has a point, the jabs both physical (such as in an Oldboy-lite office-space showdown) and pointedly political, remarking on the corruption poisoning the country’s landscape.
The plot threads are expertly handled, and the case of the missing child is an everpresent concern that drives its characters to their limits. This is a stylish Chinese gung-ho thriller with a smart political undercurrent that stings as much as its many, many kicks, punches, and fire-extinguisher-thwacks – even if its ending can’t land the final blow.
Wrath of Silence screens in the 61st BFI London Film Festival on 5, 6 and 14 October 2017.</strong