Film Review: Touch

Released: 2015; Narrative short; Written and Directed by: Lulu Wang; With: Ben Lin, Joshua Chang, Cici Lau

Touch is the heart-wrenching story of a Chinese immigrant who must come to very real terms with a cultural clash that plays out in a devastating way, bleeding into his social world and into his household. Mr. Chen (Ben Lin) is an older gentleman, a neighborhood mainstay, it would seem. Children love him, adults both appreciate his generosity and likely steer clear beyond acquaintanceship. One day, while using the restroom at the same time as local child Joey Thompson, Mr. Chen does the unthinkable and touches Joey in a way that is later deemed inappropriate. The reasons for his actions are explained as the film progresses and as he discusses the incident with his family, but two things are made explicitly clear in the aftermath of the Chen-Joey incident: 1) A group of adults who must dig down deep for their niceties most days, find their venom with ease as Chen is charged with the inconceivable and 2) A man who appears to have melted into the background of his world, even to his wife and grown son, is plunged into the spotlight in the most uncomfortable of ways.

Touch is, at its core, an exploration of culture and of family. It’s a study on the children of immigrants and how identity can make or break one’s spirit during trying times. And, I think, most importantly, it’s an examination of the assumptions we make when left to our own devices.

Touch is a well-made film, its moments of POV really stealing the show. Chen’s interactions and observations are all given a little bit of a visual of discomfort – it’s not a short-coming of the technicality, but an obvious choice to help us climb right on into Chen’s clunky shoes. At the beginning of the film, we are made to understand that the narrative is based on a true tale and at the end, that thread is pulled through and we are provided with the end of Chen’s story, as it panned out in real life.

Touch is a product of Project Involve, Film Independent’s signature diversity program. It is “dedicated to cultivating the careers of filmmakers from communities traditionally underrepresented in the industry.” In a true parallel to its heritage, this film does the same for Chen, for an understated population, and maybe, more to the point, an understated issue.

– Leah Gehlsen

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