REVIEW: Touch (2020)

dir. Aleksandra Szczepanowska.

Marking the directorial debut of multi-talented actor/writer/producer Aleksandra Szczepanowska, this ambitious erotic thriller stars Szczepanowska as Fei Fei, a Caucasian western woman living in China on a long-term visitor’s permit. Despite being married to a successful Chinese executive and having a young son, she’s continually frustrated by the country she loves, and when secrets are revealed about her husband’s past she finds solace in the hands of an enigmatic blind masseuse. As Fei Fei seeks to cease the affair however her lover becomes increasingly volatile and obsessive, threatening everything she has struggled to establish in an alien world.

Although described by many as a sensual erotic thriller, the dominant emotion that permeates Touch is one of frustration; Fei Fei’s exasperation in a society constructed to strengthen male superiority is personified in the lovers she has been misled by. Her husband refuses to acknowledge her identity, both as a professional (he outright refuses to endorse her dance school) and as a person. When asked early in the film why she is named Fei Fei she admits that her husband bestowed it upon her when she met him, an act of master and pet rather than husband and wife.

In stark contrast, the young, unconventional masseuse seemingly worships Fei-Fei, or at least the idea of her; in reality he is confused and unsettled by her outward confidence. The film further establishes Fei Fei’s rebellion in her refusal to cut her son’s hair, and thus allow him to be a part of the male construct, a matter of conflict between her and her husband.

As assured and deft as the film is, thematically and from an aesthetic standpoint it feels glaringly dated. Drenched in soft focus and lit like an unofficial music video in a karaoke bar, there are times when dramatic beats are unintentionally amusing. Moments of (assumed) sensuality are undermined by an eclectic but ill-conceived soundtrack and – for an erotic thriller – it’s disappointing that Touch just isn’t very erotic.

That being said Szczepanowska gives it everything, recalling Isabelle Huppert in her performance, bestowing Fei Fei with an undeniable electricity that’s hard to forget. Equally, Jun Yang is excellent as the overbearing husband, lacing the role with an ambiguity which keeps audiences guessing as to his true intentions.

A solid debut from a brave and confident director, Szczepanowska demonstrates herself to be an extremely talented multi-hyphenate with a fresh and distinctive voice, whilst hypnotic performances and clearly persuasive concepts combine to create a film which lingers days after viewing.

⭐⭐⭐

Alex Kronenburg

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