The imitation-Cirque du Soleil wire-fu bits that begin The Touch (Tian mai chuan qi, 2002) as an extravagant stage performance would've been more impressive if not "helped along" with computer animation & film editing tricks.
The very first time I ever saw Cirque du Soleil, a production which borrowed from India's mythology for its imagery of ultra-beauties in flight, I immediately thought, oh Ma, how delightful it would be to see a really good, basic wuxia stage play performed with some of these tricks, perhaps a version of Monkey Goes West full of fantasy & super-heroics.
Cirque du Soleil can do this stuff live without need of computer graphics. If that fascinating protracted opening to The Touch hadn't been so obviously phony, it could really have been something original in kung fu cinema.
As it stands, it's imperfect to a high degree, but even at that, the best part of the film. The climax will be all-out-CGI that might or might not be a nice cartoon (I think it's not) but certainly didn't equal the opening sequence which at least tried to look like it had actual performers.
Michelle Yeoh is Pak Yin Fay, & Brandon Chang is Pak Yuek Tong, Yin's little brother. They are the stars of the acrobatic carnival act called "The Touch." Eric (Ben Chaplin), Fay's sort-of-brother, is a caucasion orphan raised by her father (played in flashbacks by Winston Chao) & trained alongside Yin & Tong. He grew up a black sheep, & uses the arts his foster-father taught him to become a top international thief of jewels & art treasures.
Eric has of late stolen the "Heart of Dun-huang" for his evil client Karl (Richard Roxburgh). The object is a tacky rather art nouveau trinkety puzzle that is supposed to have been made in 1222 by the Buddhist monks of Dun-huang, a monastery along the Silk Road.
Xuan Zang was a sainted monk whose relics are believed to bestow immortality & limitless power, which cornpone villain Karl requires for some ill-defined sinister plot. The relics have been hidden where humanity cannot misuse them, to be found in a better age. Clues to the relics' whereabouts are in that art object the Heart of Dun-huang.
After Eric delivers the tacky looking object d'art to the bad guy who hired him, he almost immediately steals it back in a sequence that is nothing but an extended cinematic cliche of a drop-from-ceiling heist.
Having regained the crummy little prop, he takes it to his sister at the carnival. For it is an object their late father had searched his whole life for. Their family of acrobats has a lineage going back to 1222 & traditional skills have been passed through the generations specifically to get them through the "traps" of the place where the saint's relics are hidden.
Younger brother Tong & his girlfriend Lily (Margaret Wang), who've managed to convey very little personality, run off to China, flashing the well-famed Heart all about until they get themselves in deep crapola looking for the place of the hidden relics.
These bland youngsters are briefly assisted by an aged monk who is killed for his efforts, played by a truly venerable character actor, Sihung Lung, in what turned out to be his last film role.
Bad guy Karl & his cardboard minions eventually capture the borderline-retarded young couple. Among Karl's minions, one actually surfaces with character, a sort of "sweet & sour" comic relief bad-guy named Bob (Dane Cook). The only reason Karl hasn't just killed Bob for incompetence is because he's a relative.
And who could've guessed, big sister Yin & big brother Eric are in full pursuit to save younger brother & his girlfriend. How suspenseful it is wondering if they can foil Karl's largely nonsensical plans.
Michelle Yeoh's face is full of character & emotive power ranging from anger to kindness, from annoyance to love, besides the fact that she's simply a great beauty. Even so, she can't save this film because she's not in every scene.
That Cirque du Soleil homage at the start was nice but it is never duplicated. The middle portion of the film is dull. And the end is apt to appeal to anime fans & no one else, as it isn't the least bit real looking.
Computer-fu occurs over a fiery pit with massively unconvincing computer-drawn "fire" & thousands of animated spears & whatnot zipping at people from cartoon booby traps. Is it thrilling? Not in the least.
The romance of Tong & Lily isn't developed enough to be interesting, & the romance of Eric & Yin is about as sexy as watching a goddess kissing a goat.
So the characters aren't much, the fantasy story isn't much, & the pseudo-acrobatics in the climax are so obviously done in the computer that they lack even the usual authenticity of action expected of pre-CGI kung fu films.
In all The Torch is a major failure. It's a sad thing to report because the great Michelle Yeoh not only starred in but produced & helped write the script, so she surely cared about the project & wanted to do something worthy of international distribution.
Concessions in the story toward the American market undermined it a bit, & the awful choice of Ben Chapman as a "leading man" is truly puzzling, since he's barely good enough to serve as second banana on a forgettable sit-com. He comes off as a callow youth who a grown-up like Yeoh might do once or twice if she was horny & liked 'em young, but could not reasonably be serious about him.
Add to such weak casting the simply awful computer animation that supplants convincing action & what you end up with is pretty lame even for mindless entertainment. Yet the acting is good & one can almost see that there was once an idea for a pretty good film that got lost in an awful mess.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl