A Touch of Evil

Reviewed by YTSL

The Chinese title of this dramatic production -- which is like “Love Among the Triad” in that criminal activities figure in it but really are secondary in terms of plot relevance to romantic developments -- literally translates into English as “Crazy Wild Death Love”.  While all of these elements can be said to be found within it, (the audience of) this 1995 film from director Tony Au -- one of whose previous efforts is the somewhat artsy feeling “Dream Lovers” -- would have been better served if they had existed in greater quantity or been more intensely displayed; my point being that although it is not really a bad piece of work, neither is it a terribly exciting movie.

A TOUCH OF EVIL (a.k.a. “A Touch of Love”) starts off promisingly enough with a deal being amicably struck and good business relations being cemented between a Hong Kong Chinese Triad and a Pakistani drug importer amidst picturesque as well as festive goings-on (group-dancing and merry-making to rhythmic South Asian music) at a dockside.  This early segment also serves to introduce one of the trio of personae who figure prominently in this movie:  A trusted lieutenant of the older East Asian mobster; a surprisingly laid-back -- considering his “profession” -- Vietnamese-American man who goes by the name of King (who is played -- not all that badly, actually! -- by Michael Wong).

The 104 minute length film then moves to a police station.  Within those environs, a fiery and fickle “dame”-type woman called Coco (Rosamund Kwan -- I am sorry to say -- over-acts to such an extent that her actions sometimes are truly laughable, and consequently does not convince in this major role) is shown being questioned and hassled by plain-clothes officers (the most menacing and also sleazy of whom is essayed by Tony Leung Kar Fai).  Implicated on tape as having been involved with a recently murdered gangster and known to be acquainted with King, she gets “convinced” to help the police learn about future drug deals from -- and accumulate evidence to arrest -- the individual who seems unable to utter a complete sentence in Cantonese without throwing in some English despite years of having lived and worked in Hong Kong (I have been moved to wonder whether Michael Wong would be as annoying if he was not prone to doing this...).

Plot and relational complications arise though upon Coco finding herself falling for the good-natured King, and the two men on opposite sides of the law -- who also are in possession of contrasting personalities -- finding themselves similarly attracted to her.  While I applaud A TOUCH OF EVIL’s movie makers allowing for love to slowly -- rather than suddenly -- blossom, it has to be pointed out that leisurely conducted courtships and gradual realizations of one’s caring for another person do not usually make for particularly gripping theatre.  And it does not help that there is a sense of inevitability to these proceedings which lead to their lacking the kind of romantic tension as well as sparks that, say, “Comrades, Almost a Love Story” has in spades.
If only half as much attention had been paid to subsidiary but intriguing relations and characters in this somewhat disappointing film.  As it was, opportunities were lost to flesh out the father-son -- or at least mentor-protege -- type relationship that King had with the senior gangster who was his boss.  Ditto re the not inconsequential, as it turns out, association between King and the under-developed character (nick)named Tiger.
Additionally, even though she didn’t have that much screen time, I thought that the quiet but capable individual who turns out to have been Inspector Leung’s (whose personal name never did get disclosed!) girlfriend as well as colleague was A TOUCH OF EVIL’s most interesting character (and that Elizabeth Lee gave a nicely nuanced performance here).  IMHO, this surficially fine (cinematographer Arthur Wong was nominated for a Hong Kong Film Award; it boasts William Cheung as its art director) but unfortunately vapid and shallow feeling work would have benefited from her being in the picture more -- or better still, if the movie’s main woman and men had been as well drawn as that of this straightforward person who knew what she wanted and did act decisively on it.

My rating for the film:  6.