Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei
Chinese Title: Tian mai chuan qi
Director: Peter Pau
Writing credits: Julien Carbon, Laurent Courtiaud, J.D. Zeik
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Ben Chaplin, Richard Roxburgh, Brandon Chang
Country: Hong Kong
Year released: 2002
Runtime: 104 min
Rating: ** (out of four stars)
The Touch is a sure sign that Michelle Yeoh is rising up the ranks in Hollywood - due largely to the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon no doubt. The Touch sees her in the producers role for the first time, and she has chosen an Asian-tinged swashbuckler to be her maiden effort. The director for this modestly-budgeted (US$20 million) film also hails from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, being the Oscar-winning cinematographer Peter Pau. Michelle Yeoh, of course, stars as the female protagonist in the movie. Sounds like a formula for sure success? Well...
Yin Fei (Michelle Yeoh) is the head of a family of acrobats, who has kept safe half the key to the secret of an ancient Buddhist relic for generations. The relic is the holy Sharira (no, not the throaty Latino songstress) of Xuan Zang, the life-essence of the venerable Buddhist monk. However, evil Caucasian collector Karl (Richard Roxburgh) has managed to find the other half of the key - a talisman called The Heart of Dun Huang, thanks to the services of a thief by the name of Eric (Ben Chaplin).
However, Eric has his eyes set on the Sharira too, and teams up with Yin Fei, whom he was once involved with, to seek out the relic in the remote desert area of Dun Huang. Little do they know that Tong (Brandon Chang), Yin Feis brash younger brother, is also intent on reclaiming the family treasure. Thus begins an adventure that proves to be more dangerous than they thought would be...
Yes, its a stock action movie plot, made slightly different by adding in the Asian perspective. But like what many people say, no one watches action films for the plot, so the point is a little moot. Audiences watch action films for the action sequences, the special effects, and occasionally the repartee and romance between the protagonists. Indiana Jones is a perfect example, and its not unfair to compare the two films. The Touch even shares the comic streak that runs through the Indiana Jones movies, and there are a handful of scenes in The Touch that will certainly bring a smile to ones lips. There is, however, a totally unnecessary character in the film that can be best compared to Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace - a bumbling character that is so unbelievably stupid and useless that its clear the sole purpose is to provide comic relief. And, unfortunately, that doesnt work most of the time, neither in The Phantom Menace nor The Touch.
To be fair, The Touch features truly breathtaking scenery, especially the scenes which feature the desolately beautiful vistas of Dun Huang and Tibet. With Peter Pau at the helm, its unsurprising to find that the cinematography in The Touch is excellent, and there are scenes that are lavishly drenched in colour, reminiscent of Martin Scorseses work in Kundun. There is also one scene early on in The Touch, where UV light is used to remarkable (though mildly cheesy) effect. No one can do action choreography like the Asians can, and The Touch doesnt prove this point wrong. However, some of the fight sequences seem ripped off from those found in Crouching Tiger, and other sequences arent as well-choreographed.
Unfortunately, the special effects in The Touch are just about the worst I have seen in years, with unbelievably poor blue screen composites that seem more like effects from the early 80s than a 2002 film. One wonders why the producers (yes, that includes you, Miss Yeoh) werent able to either reduce the number of effects shots, or to at least increase the budget allocated to these sequences. Thankfully, these special effects are confined to the last reel of The Touch, leaving most of the movie untainted by these cringe-inducing scenes. Although Michelle Yeoh acquits herself in the role of Yin Fei, the same cannot be said of Richard Roxburgh, who spends all of his onscreen time happily chewing the scenery as a stock villain, and Ben Chaplin, who is his usual bland and unremarkable self.
The Touch is also a film that seems afraid to make use of subtitles: how believable is it that everyone who has a speaking role in Dun Huang converses in American-accented English, including the monks? This seems surprising, especially since so many people involved in The Touch came from Crouching Tiger, a film that did remarkably well despite being almost exclusively screened subtitled in the Western world. Despite these flaws, The Touch remains a fairly entertaining film, and the audience is plied with enough eye candy to make the trip to the theaters a moderately worthwhile one. Just dont mistakenly take The Touch to be an effects movie - there is a reason why none of the special effects were shown in the trailers.
Final Word: Jaw-droppingly bad special effects and a lackluster cast threaten to spoil the whole show, but gorgeous scenery and effective cinematography help save The Touch.