The Touch (2002) / Action-Adventure

MPAA Rated: Not rated, probably PG-13 for violence and disturbing images          Running Time: 103 min.

Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Ben Chaplin, Richard Roxburgh, Brandon Chang, Dane Cook
Director: Peter Pau
Screenplay: Julien Carbon, Laurent Courtiaud, J.D. Zeik



At first glance, first-time director Peter Pau would seem like a natural choice for this adventure tale full of scenic locales and exotic sets.  Prior to THE TOUCH, Pau worked as a cinematographer in Hong Kong, winning the Oscar in 2000 for his work on CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON.  If this film proves anything, it's that there's more to directing than making things look good, as the elements were there for a decent film, but Pau has trouble keeping it all together on a consistent basis. 

The script is written by Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud, who also wrote the nifty Johnny To film, RUNNING OUT OF TIME, and they are joined by J.D. Zeik, screenwriter for the intelligent action-thriller, RONIN.  There's quite a bit of action and fighting, and Michelle Yeoh is about as good as they get for physical action.  Yet, the rest of the casting is curiously ineffective, with Chaplin out of place performing kicks and punches, and Richard Roxburgh, the Duke from MOULIN ROUGE, not very formidable an adversary to counter Yeoh's strong presence.  But adventure films don't necessarily call for the best casting so long as the story is good and the action thrilling, and as memorable as the film looks with its special effects and cinematography, the action is poorly choreographed and characters as wooden as they come.

Yeoh plays a circus performer who, along with her younger brother, have been trained in acrobatics since they were children by their father in order that they may help him on a mythic quest.  This quest involved avoiding a series of traps in order to retrieve the sacred remains of an ancient holy man hidden away in the Dun Huang region.  Their father had the scroll and map to the remains but needed a certain stone to unlock the entrance, but expired before realizing his dreams.  The family had all but forgotten the legend, but a family friend named Eric (Chaplin) has stolen the stone from a wealthy collector, Karl.  Karl and his goons are on the chase to retrieve the stone and scroll to claim the prize for himself, taking Yeoh's brother and his girlfriend along for insurance, and soon the race is on to get there first.

I'd say that THE TOUCH probably would make a better videogame than a movie, but that game has already been made: TOMB RAIDER.  As a movie, there's little that THE TOUCH has to offer that hadn't already been done to death in the far superior INDIANA JONES series, and much of the film's ending is too reminiscent of INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE to think it a mere coincidence.  Of course, there is the high-flying acrobatics aspect that sets it somewhat apart, and if it those scenes hadn't been directed in such a ham-handed fashion, THE TOUCH would have been a relatively decent clone.  It never does gel into a satisfying whole, and what we're left with is a nice looking but disengaging adventure film that shows far more promise than it is able to deliver.

THE TOUCH is primarily only of interest for fans of Michelle Yeoh, who does the best she can in a one-dimensional role.  If you want to see her in a better "Indiana Clone", I'd recommend watching MAGNIFICENT WARRIORS, which isn't great, but at least maintained a consistent level of entertainment.  Others starved for an adventure flick might also give it a glance, as it is at least more intelligent than THE MUMMY or THE SCORPION KING.  Peter Pau is a terrific cinematographer, but probably should leave the directorial duties to those with more touch than he shows in this half-baked tale in the future.

2003 Vince Leo