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March 21, 2006

The Touch


Tian mai chuan qi
Peter Pau - 2002
Mega Star Video Region 0 DVD

Michelle Yeoh had hoped to capitalize on the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by producing an English language vehicle for herself. Miramax bought the U.S. distribution rights only to decide that there was no market for The Touch. The film is now a casualty of the Miramax changeover. Considering the quality of some of the action films currently, or recently, in theaters, The Touch is as good, if not better. I don't know if there is an actual bias against Chinese films with contemporary settings compared to the costume epics like Hero. I also have to wonder if there is a reluctance to sell a film featuring a female action star, but one who is Chinese and not young. It should be noted that Yeoh grew up speaking clear, British accented English.

This is not to say that The Touch is masterpiece, but it is beautifully photographed by director-cinematographer Peter Pau, with entertaining action sequences directed by Philip Kwok. If some of the CGI effects are a little weak, consider that the film cost about a sixth of the budget for Van Helsing. The most spectactular part of The Touch is the location shooting throughout Malaysia and China, particularly in the desert on the way to Tun-Huang.

The convoluted story concerns a family of acrobats, a Buddhist monk with a secret treasure in the Tun-Huang cave. A very wealthy bad guy, Karl, (Richard Roxburgh) with a house full of antiquities, steals the map from the family, led by Yin (Yeoh). Caught in the middle is Eric (Ben Chaplin), a former acrobat who was adopted by Yin's family, but has lately worked as a thief for Karl. The good guys and the bad guys get into a couple of martial arts scuffles and chase each other into the cave. Buddhist trappings aside, the story line is not disimilar to those found for Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. Even if the Buddhism portrayed in the film is bogus, the existence of the caves is real. For those with more interest in the subject, I recommend the novel Tun-Huang by Yasushi Inoue.

Even though Yeoh is the star, Dane Cook steals the film as the doofus brother of Karl. I'm not sure how much of Cook's dialogue was improvised, but it is as funny has some of his stand-up material. Cook elicits laughs with physical humor with the kind of bumbling ineptitude associated with Jerry Lewis, trying to keep his composure while everything around him falls apart.

Some of the desert scenes made me wish I was watching The Touch on a large movie screen, especially with long shots of Yeoh and Chaplin's car seen against a great expanse of sand. Sometimes even a sixty inch television screen is not enough. With Yeoh involved in other high profile projects and Dane Cook's rising star, The Touch has enough going for it to hope that someone will at least make a U.S. DVD release available.

Posted by peter at March 21, 2006 12:29 PM