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The end of Xia – the contemporary biopolitics in Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin

Within the four narratives consisted in Jia Zhangke’s latest film A Touch of Sin, the heroes or the heroines eventually put an end to the social injustice by the act of killing. These acts of killing, through Jia’s narrative, reveal that if the contemporary China can not be contained within the question of law, then to confront this situation is perhaps by the gesture of “Xia”(俠) that is outside the law. The first three characters within the film, the Shanxi coal miner with the shotgun covered by a tiger-skin cloth, then the modern Robin hood killer, and the waitress draws her knife to kill which resembles a female warrior, all of these present the body-sensible of the pre-modern concept of “Xia,” which is not to be contained within the modern concept of law. Nevertheless, unlike the first three, in the last narrative the young migrant worker, instead of killing other to end the suffering, he kills himself instead, is not presenting any act that demonstrates the concept of “Xia.” With the depiction of a society of people that is completely contained within the non-escapable social-economical production of the contemporary biopolitics, the last narrative shows the inability to deploy a gesture of “Xia” that is outside the structure. While Jia Zhangke says that one of the motives for making this film is to pay tribute to the Chinese Wuxia/martial arts film tradition, we should notice that through the last narrative, the film eventually reveals the end of the pre-modern gesture of “Xia” within the contemporary biopolitics. Through the last narrative, the film provides a pessimistic yet critical point of view on the contemporary China as to the contemporary world.

Hui-Yu Tang PhD student, Graduate Institute for Social Research and Culture Studies, Chiao Tung University, Taiwan.

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