Touted as Chinese Asia's No.1 heroine nearly wasted as another Bond girl, Michelle Yeoh has finally found herself an English vehicle to tackle the Western world. The Touch, the first movie from her own production company, not only stars Yeoh herself, but is also co-produced and co-written by her.
Unfortunately, having creative control over the film doesn't mean it is a creative one. The story can best be summarised as "Chinese female Indiana Jones kicks white men's behinds very hard in Buddhist temples". However, with the lack of decent popcorn films this summer, The Touch should do well to satiate those who thirst for the currently hyped Chinese martial arts flick. Well, the Vin Diesel vehicle XXX should be a good popcorn film too, only featuring a lot more explosions and a less established leading actor.
Yeoh plays Yin, the descendant of a family of acrobats entrusted by a group of Tibetian monks to retrieve the Sharia (more on that later). As well, she is the keeper of her brother, Tong (newcomer Chang). Blissfully going on world tours displaying their famous Chinese acrobatic skills (exemplified nicely in a well-choreographed opening sequence), Yin is given an unexpected visit by Eric (Chaplin) during Tong's birthday. The gatecrasher happens not only to be a thief, but also (surprise, surprise), her ex boyfriend. Eric was also once trained by Yin's father. As to why a Caucasian American kid would become a street urchin in 1980 Malaysia is left to the audience's imagination. He bears a gift he stole for nasty tycoon-obsessed-with-Eastern-values villain Karl (Ruxbourgh), which is the Heart of Dun Huang, the key to the retrieval of the Sharia.
The Sharia, through a series of very, very "Chinese" explaining, is revealed to be a relic left by a legendary monk. It would provide the possessor the standard omnipotent powers and immortality. Basically the Sharia has a lot in common with the relics in Indiana Jones movies and Tomb Raider; but nevertheless, it is very important that Yin's family retrieve it to prevent greedy white tycoons to use it to ruin the world or some such.
Yin has lost sight of the validity of the Sharia legend, despite her brother and Eric's steadfastness. To convince her, Eric gets himself conveniently captured by Karl and subjected to some very cruel (supposedly) Chinese water torture techniques. As Yin goes kick Karl's butt, Tong makes the very matured move of running off to China with his girlfriend and The Heart of Dun Huang, which explains why he needs a keeper. With Yin finally "convinced", Eric goes to China with her to a) rescue brother and his girlfriend; b) retrieve ancient relic; c) kick Karl's butt; and d) unintentionally rekindle their relationship.
If it is not obvious enough, the story reads like a very pretentious tomb-raiding movie. I find it extremely disappointing that the legend of the Sharia is reduced to an excuse for Michelle Yeoh to do foot-to-arse action. Several characters were given less than a complimentary supporting role, like the brother's pretty girlfriend, and the annoyingly idiotic comic relief portrayed by the Karl's nephew. The acting is all right compared to the stiff script. The romance between strong woman Yeoh and culturally displaced Chaplin could be much stronger if there had been more character development.
Thankfully, we have Peter Pau (cinematographer of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) to show us a few of the most breathtaking scenes of Tibet, Qingtao and Dunhuang desert. For National Geographic geeks out there, according to the producers this is the first time the Tibet sceneries were allowed to be shown on film.
The action sequences hold their own, especially of note a scene featuring the most defenestrations ever seen on film. Regrettably, the last action sequence features an extremely disappointing CGI-driven flyabout, with people flying around tumbling pillars and fake fire, horribly akin to one used in Spawn. Western audience may rejoice that these special effects will be suitably polished for worldwide release (the current release is Asian only), but this cannot compare to the thrill of seeing Michelle Yeoh jumping off helicopters and trains during her previous action flicks.
One exceptional element of note in this film is the usage of silk scarves used during the action sequences. It is an original adaptation of the more Western grappling hook as silk scarves are weaved strong enough to grapple themselves up to overhead handles and cliffs, in order for Yeoh and company to swing around (unfortunately, Yin's father probably did not give enough guidance to Eric, who chooses to use a much more pathetic hook instead).
Despite criticism the film is pretty watchable. While much can be improved upon, including less close-in shots of Yeoh and Chaplin). It is a decent as a first film from a fledging production company, and hopefully its later projects would be much better.
Rating: 3 Fairies
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Ben Chaplin, Richard Roxburgh, Brandon Chang
Director: Peter Pau
Official Website: http://www.thetouchmovie.com