Devil Touch (2002)

Directed by: Billy Tang
Written by: Kenny Lo
Producer: Henry Fong
Starring: Alex Fong, Michael Dao, Pinky Cheung, Iris Chai, Henry Fong & Ken Wong

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Company secretary Amy (Iris Chan) attacks her previous boss Cheuk (Michael Dao) with a knife, seemingly without reason. An internal investigation is launched, headed by Joe (Alex Fong), who receives two contrasting perspectives as to what is the background leading up the attack. Also brewing in the hallways is a merger deal with another company where Jacqueline (Pinky Cheung) is seeking to gain a powerful position. As Joe will find out, all unexpected events leading into this critical phases of the merger are somehow connected and dangerous...

Billy Tang's last film to date, still past the "glory" years of Category III filmmaking (1*), sees him blending his past sensibilities with the corporate thriller in a pleasing manner, showing a progress working outside of the famed rating. The setting, structured around sex, twists and turns is a staple wherever you go and one where it's almost a fashion statement to go overboard with "surprises" in the story. Going into Devil Touch, some of us knows Billy Tang has done exactly the latter for works like Sharp Guns and Interactive Murders but early on, he neatly showcases a skill to address the sense of curiosity with the viewer, warning us a ahead of time to pay attention. It's good to know, rather than being floored by it later on.

With frequent cinematographer Tony Miu by his side again, Tang seems to have a fetish for faces here. A choice that not only generates a clean, static but absorbing frame, it also subconsciously triggers the viewer to be aware of characters POSSIBLY not being what they've been set up to be. Michael Dao's Cheuk is for instance one who's really extinguished psychologically in the first reel, growing into a sympathetic character in the minds of the audience, but we somehow know it's not the end of developments, neither for him or the surrounding characters. Herein lies a challenge to make a talky narrative based on company merging and executive power compelling and it's not because of it but by merging Cat IIb rated erotica and a few scenarios of effective brutal violence, Devil Touch is firmly being molded by Tang, in a way that's not him working on a project not suited for him.

No, Tang keeps a worthwhile focus on his visuals, and the direction needed to keep a twisting narrative clear. The film is not of the A-list kind anywhere except maybe via the casting of Alex Fong so deep inside there's no revolutionary filmmaking produced with this small budget. Yet, I've often thought creativity is born out of less restraints so in the case of Devil Touch, Tang is allowed to show he's ever so slightly better than the B-movie swamp he's usually resided in. The punches in the story are absorbing and the final twists that occurs not only feels plausible but cleverly anti-climactic. Hey, it's about corporate power struggles after all, can't jazz that up completely.

So this tasty combo of Tang working with a kinder rating (although in some cases, the differences between IIb and III becomes highly blurred) genuinely intrigues and the casting of our females Pinky Cheung and Iris Chan adds to that. Sufficient at best, they allow themselves to be in the hands of what is ultimately one of the best exploitation filmmakers in Hong Kong but the darker, edgier atmosphere remains restrained enough for these ladies to not be utilized wrongly. Alex Fong dones the coolheaded investigative behaviour in a manner that centers the film well, especially so when final reflections are flashed before the character about the world he's in.

Devil Touch even takes on substance at this point and again shows Billy Tang, who had a busy streak end with this film, has a place in Hong Kong cinema. The film offers up a setup that doesn't seem to cater to the demented effectiveness Tang can bring but in fact it does, more effectively than some people may believe about someone who got fame "only" due to Category III films. However since Hong Kong cinema is now strongly than ever entertaining the notion that small sized filmmaking is the way to go, I hope Billy will get a chance to show he can be a guiding light when dealing with lesser resources. Devil Touch proves it and wasn't fully conceived on the back of a napkin either, as normal as it is to think that. And I don't blame you, just let Billy Tang convince you of the opposite.

The DVD:

Winson presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.77:1 approximately. Little damage is present but a smeary nature comes with the transfer, hindering sharpness to come fully though. It's a defined movie as shot so this is a little unfortunate.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track sounds quite remarkable for a lower-budget production, offering up detailed separation in the fronts especially. A 5.1 option is also included as well as corresponding choices for the Mandarin dub.

The English subtitles has a number of grammatical flaws but for a fairly plot heavy film, they do the job adequately. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. There are no extras.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson

(1) Billy being behind some of the best of them back in the 90s, including Run And Kill and Red To Kill.