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The Touch


(left) Michelle Yeoh and a fighting white guy, and (right) Michelle Yeoh and Ben Chaplin.

Year: 2002
Director: Peter Pau Tak-Hei
Producer: Michelle Yeoh, Thomas Chung, Gao Feng-Jun
Action: Philip Kwok Chun-Fung
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Ben Chaplin, Richard Roxburgh, Sihung Lung, Brandon Chang, Margaret Wang, Dane Cook, Kenneth Tsang Kong, Emmanuel Lanzi, Gabriel Harrison (Hoi Chun-Kit), Winston Chao
The Skinny: Impressively mounted wannabe US stuff which is a decent showcase for its star-producer-writer Michelle Yeoh. While diverting and even intruiging at times, the film never becomes anything more than a glorified commercial exercise. And for a Hong Kong movie, it falls way short of the mark.
by Kozo:
     Michelle Yeoh's long-awaited action-adventure picture The Touch has come under fire from some sources for "sucking." Well, to say The Touch sucks is probably too strong. At the very least, the film is a competently made international adventure picture which does a good job of earning its wannabe US film status. On the other hand, calling it a good movie would be a bit of a stretch.
     Yeoh is Yin, a Chinese acrobat who performs with brother Tong (Brandon Chang) in a traveling circus called "The Touch." She gets involved in a mythical quest when old friend Eric (Ben Chaplin of The Truth about Cats and Dogs) shows up on her doorstep with the Heart of Dun Huang, a jade medallion that is said to unlock the secret of the Sharira. Not to be confused with a spicy Latin popstar, the Sharira is actually the crystallized essence of a legendary monk which can supposedly do great things for mankind. Or, in the possession of a bad person, the Sharira could do bad things for mankind. Cue John Williams theme music.
     Eric stole the Heart of Dun Huang from evil rich guy Karl (Richard Roxburgh of Moulin Rouge and Mission: Impossible 2), who collects ancient relics for no reason other than to satisfy his megalomaniacal ego. As could be expected, Karl does not take the theft likely. However, he doesn't have to work that hard. He merely has to follow Tong and girlfriend Lily (Margaret Wang), who heads off in search of the Sharira to prove his family's legacy to be true. Apparently, it has always been prophesized that some Chinese acrobats would find and safeguard the Sharira from evil sources. Yin is somewhat leery of treasure hunting, so Tong opts to go in her place. But, with Karl on Tong's trail, it's up to Yin and Eric to save the day and, presumably, all of mankind as we know it.
     Complex is probably not the best word for The Touch's plot. Though rich with pseudo-mystical detail, the legend of the Sharira is nothing more than a simple plot device designed to jumpstart an Indiana Jones-type adventure. It's just an excuse for Michelle Yeoh to display her celebrated athleticism, and for director/cinematographer Peter Pau to wow the world with his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-worthy cinematography and Sidney J. Furie-caliber direction. And The Touch certainly looks amazing, with some fantastic location photography, fine costumes and all-around pleasant art direction.
     The film's technical panache helps offset the most glaring negatives, though there are quite a few. The dialogue is unbelievable hokey, and Pau's handling of it is incredibly poor. Furthermore, the acting is all over the place. Many of the supporting actors (including newcomer Brandon Chang) are wooden, but male lead Ben Chaplin is servicable, and Richard Roxburgh is amusing in his amusing bad guy role. The story, while nothing spectacular, isn't boring, and Michelle Yeoh is certainly an engaging screen presence. The minor bits of action that occur before the climax are marred by too-obvious wirework, but they're at least well-choreographed. If a thrilling finale is in order then most likely the negatives could be forgiven.
     However, the roof caves in. The finale arrives, and it's a massive special effects-marred action sequence that obviously was put together entirely in post-production. That wouldn't necessarily be bad, if it weren't for the fact that the effects are egregiously fake-looking. That, and questionable physics in the action sequences, turn the whole thing into a distracting "Yeah, right" experience that could alienate even the most forgiving. Hong Kong Cinema was not popularized by technical superiority or a "bigger is better" mentality. It was popularized by sheer energy and the element of surprise, two things which make a miniscule budget or suspect acting go unnoticed. And, The Touch possesses neither of those things.
     Which leaves us with the reason most of us probably watched the film in the first place: Michelle Yeoh. Yeoh is an extremely charismatic woman, and her screen presence goes a great way towards making The Touch tolerable. However, that presence is tempered by poor chemistry with romantic interest Chaplin, and the lousy script, which was endorsed by Yeoh, who produced and even co-wrote the film. Again, this is probably the fault of Hollywood at play in Hong Kong, or the current need of many Hong Kong professionals to embrace and/or emulate Western filmmaking. The Touch follows that model perfectly with its canned romance and uninteresting characters. Bland screenwriting is par for the course for most American films, and The Touch would make a pretty average American film. But for a Hong Kong movie, The Touch really doesn't cut it. (Kozo 2002)

• The Touch has been optioned for US release by - you guessed it - Miramax, Walt Disney, Dimension or whatever you'd like to call them. One day, they plan on purchasing Hong Kong with an option for parent company China.
This film marked the last screen appearance of Sihung Lung, who is best known for his roles in Eat Drink Man Woman and The Wedding Banquet.


DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mega Star / Media Asia
2-Disc Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
English Dolby Digital 5.1 / English DTS 5.1 / Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Audio Commentary

images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen