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Touch (2021)
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by Erik Childress

"Don't Forget To Drink Lots Of Water"
2 stars

American films, particularly remakes, often fall into the trap of trying to one-up its originals by providing more generic thrills or happy endings. The nuance of a more enriching study of culture or character falling victim to the more palatable devices of a screenwriter with no imagination – or too much. Well, sometimes that happens abroad too. Case in point – Aleksandra Szczepanowska’s Touch which she wrote, directed and stars in opens with the promise of something deeper, illuminating and even sensual and then falls down a wormhole into the days when Fatal Attraction reduxes were all the rage. Touch is all the more ironic in that the film begins with an exploration of identity and then has so much trouble finding one itself.

Fei Fei (Szczepanowska) opens the film at a police station in China trying to finalize her permanent residency paperwork. Seems their rules can change on a dime and if she is not prepared could even be charged as a criminal. Fei Fei is not even her real name, but one changed to make her sound less European and more Asian. Her husband, the wealthy Zhang Hua (Jun Yung) treats her more like a prop and even a brood mare trying to get her to give their young son, Mo Mo (Beckhan) a sibling. Even the intertwining of glasses feels more like a handcuff than a romantic gesture. But then one day sitting alone in the park, she feels like someone finally sees her.

Actually Bai Yu (Yuan Jiangwei) cannot because he is blind. When she follows him to a blind massage parlor, as one of the masseurs he claims not to massage women but is forced to make an exception. It does not take long before she is coming back for seconds. No sensual dance of the senses or timeless art of the seduction here as they hop right to it with spanking and everything. A mutual obsession begins between them but when she opts to give more attention to her homelife after given the all-clear from authorities, the fixation slides heavily in favor of Bai Yu who begins stalking her at her home, in the streets, even in her dreams. Or does he?

It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment Touch begins to go off the rails since it is throwing us so many plot threads to pay attention to, if only in a half-hearted way. The relationship with her husband will later involve secrets he is hiding in his office about his past. The scenes of the affair somehow fail to generate any real sensuality between the two and their connection on either a passionate or emotional level feels stunted as it goes from 0-to-60 and back down to zero just as quickly. The metaphorical underpinnings of the two of them as constrained outsiders is also underdeveloped. Fei Fei may be fluent in the language but not the culture, despite having lived for some time there. “Are these Chinese herbs?” “Is putting your hands in water before a massage a ritual?” No, he’s just washing his hands. This idea is actually better seen in a moment with her son, who is perhaps the most sympathetic character enduring mental and near physical abuse from both his father (who cuts off his long hair) and mommy’s spurned lover. The solidarity Fei Fei creates with Mo Mo is emblematic of the film Szczepanowska may have wanted to make only to get bogged down in lame boo moments.

Szczepanowska’s attempt to move this into full-out thriller territory is numbed by trying to introduce the possibility that Bai Yu’s antics may be a figment of her guilt or a deteriorating dreamscape such as her imagining the blind masseurs turning on her like a bunch of Tor Johnson zombies. The comical heights don’t stop as the sightless antagonist somehow manages to find her child in a room that that would make Bruce Lee, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Orson Welles dizzy. When she finds him standing at her kid’s window her solution is to just shut the drapes as if she is Simon Pegg in Shaun of the Dead. The harder it tries to be either solution the more ludicrous it becomes. The added effect of her husband and child coming into contact with Bai Yu only lends further incredulity to the insanity route. It is hard to reconcile precisely what Szczepanowska was hoping to accomplish here on the whole, but given the various switcheroos it is maddening to think that the husband comes off looking like the better person. Which is to suggest to women that your spouse may be a controlling, passionless criminal but at least he is not a blind psycho.

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originally posted: 04/29/21 05:43:36
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