Dir: Peter Pau. HK-Taiwan-China. 2002. 103mins
An 'Indiana Jones' with Chinese characteristics, The Touch is a sumptuous adventure whose hi-tech visuals are undercut by that most low-tech aspect of filmmaking: the script. Michelle Yeoh's initial venture as both producer and star possesses a glossy sheen but, due to scenario deficiencies, ultimately leaves the viewer uninvolved. Despite a huge publicity campaign for its summer 2002 release in Hong Kong, the picture failed to create sparks at the local box office, registering a lacklustre $1.5m after opening on 38 screens on Aug 1, a fraction of its reported $20m budget. Its selection as Hong Kong's official entry in the Oscar sweepstakes for foreign language film (ultimately rejected by the Academy, since The Touch's dialogue is in English) is a reflection of the lack of noteworthy Hong Kong films in 2002.
The film has enjoyed a respectable, though far from record-breaking, run in China and south-east Asia, but has yet to be released in Korea and Japan. Despite the exotic locales, the presence of Yeoh, and the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-cachet of Oscar winning cinematographer Peter Pau, who here serves as both director and cinematographer, the prospects in these territories are slim, primarily due to the escapade's lack of edge-of-your-seat excitement. Re-shoots of the special effects, which were deemed not up to international standards, are to take place before Miramax handles the US release.
The story is attributed to Yeoh, producing partner Thomas Chung, and Pau, with an additional 'written by' credit to three non-Chinese scribes. Perhaps it is a case of too many cooks, for the finished product does not solve the fundamental problem of establishing a convincing legend, resulting in the film having a foundation as wobbly as the Chinese grottoes visited by acrobat Yin (Michelle Yeoh) and former lover Eric (Ben Chaplin) in the course of their quest for magical Buddhist relics.
Yin and younger brother Tong (Brandon Chang) are members of a family-operated Cirque Du Soleil-type troupe whose destiny is intricately connected to the missing antiquities. A vital clue falls into the hands of dastardly villain Carl (Richard Roxburgh, whose dry, tongue-in-cheek badness makes his the film's most enjoyable character), and the race is on.
As Yin's ex, Eric is a sarcastic rogue and the film's second most interesting personage. The other principles must shoulder the rather turgid burden of a philosophically muddled legend, depriving them of the sense of humour necessary to endow the proceedings with a light touch. The narrative is rife with inane banter and convenient incidents that make an implausible plot even more obviously arbitrary. Nor does the audience care very much for the heroes' fates, further undercutting any sense of urgency.
What The Touch has in its favour are some well-staged action sequences and the gorgeous visuals one associates with Pau. The scene in Lhasa's Potala Palace is magnificent, although ironic in light of the controversy over the preservation of Tibetan culture in present day China. The film closes with Yin and Eric discovering an ancient scroll that sets the stage for a sequel. The audience can only hope that the parchment contains a good script.
Prod cos: Han Entertainment,Tianjin Film Studio, China Film Co-Production Corp, Mythical Films
HK dist: Golden Harvest/ Han Entertainment
Int'l sales: Han Entertainment
Exec prods: Chung, Han Hongfei
Prod: Michelle Yeoh, Chung, Gao Fengjun
Scr: Laurent Cortiaud, Julien Carbon, JD Zeik, based on a story by Thomas Chung, Yeoh, Pau
Ed: Marshall Harvey
Music: Basil Poledouris
Prod des: Thomas Chong
Action dir: Philip Kwok
Main cast: Yeoh, Ben Chaplin, Richard Roxburgh, Sihung Lung, Brandon Chang, Margaret Wang, Winston Chao, Dane Cook, Kenneth Tsang, Emmanuel Lanzi, Gabriel Hoi