Aleksandra Szczepanowska makes her feature-length debut as director, writer, and actor, with the steamy thriller, Touch. While the style of the movie is different, the story beats play out like an imported Adrian Lyne film, which should give one a decent impression, both good and bad, of what to expect. So, is there more good than bad here to enjoy?
I won’t lie, the first 20 minutes of Touch are boring. It amounts to little more than Fei Fei (Szczepanowska) looking forlorn, awaiting her permanent residency for China to finally come through. There are a few conversations with her husband, Zhang Hua (Jun Yang), and son, Momo (Beckhan), but they are all surface-level. While this eventually pays off, as Fei Fei digs deeper into her husband’s past, it does not create a sense of forward momentum. This means there is nothing really gluing the audience to the screen.
This lasts until Fei Fei sees a blind man walking down the sidewalk. Something stirs in her, and she follows him to his workplace – a massage center. Fei Fei gets a massage from the blind man, Bai Yu (Jiangwei Yuan). She comes to see him the next day, and the next, until finally succumbing to their forbidden desires. But not all is as it seems with both Bai Yu and Zhang Hua, so Fei Fei feels her life is crumbling all around her.
“She comes to see [Bai Yu] the next day, and the next, until finally succumbing to their forbidden desires.”
From the moment Fei Fei gets her first massage to the end, Touch becomes intense and engaging; in a way the first act never achieves. As things get hotter for Fei Fei and Bai Yu, Szczepanowska changes the directorial style, employing more frenzied editing and more dynamic camera movements, as Fei Fei finds herself in a strange headspace. Later on, when Bai Yu is becoming more obsessed, the possibility that something terrible might befall Fei Fei feels very real.
As an actor, Szczepanowska gives an assured performance, even as her character begins unraveling. When she tells off Zhang Hua for seemingly not caring if she becomes a permanent resident, it is believable and a bit heartbreaking. She and Jiangwei Yuan share a palpable chemistry, so her falling hard is easy to buy. Yuan is also quite good. As he begs for forgiveness in the middle of traffic, his anguish feels authentic.
Andrew Barkan’s moody score is amazing, as it balances the passion and the thrills perfectly. The cinematography by Wei Ji is pretty good, wisely using a varied color palette to highlight the changes in Fei Fei’s outlook on life. And as things come to a head, the editing becomes more intense and quicker, adding to the sense of danger that might befall all involved.
Touch is not a perfect film, as it is slow to start, and some of the side stories (Momo preparing to go to school) are not developed enough to feel necessary. But when it focuses on Fei Fei’s indiscretions with Bai Yu and the fallout thereof, it is engaging. The actors are strong, the music is splendid, and the directing is strong enough to, flaws and all, make the thriller worthy of checking out.
"…balances the passion and the thrills perfectly."