Director Billy Tang is best known for category III classics such as “Red to Kill” and “Dr. Lamb”, and since the majority of his less graphic films have been disappointingly pedestrian, it is with understandable trepidation that we come to “Devil Touch”. Alarm bells continue to ring with the fact that the film is a ‘corporate politics’ thriller and has a DVD case promising nothing more than glossy melodrama. Thankfully, these initial fears turn out to be unfounded, as “Devil Touch” is entertaining, trashy and vigorously sleazy, far more akin to John McNaughton’s “Wild Things” than the dull bureaucracy of films like Michael Crichton’s “Disclosure”.
Despite having a complex plot and reasonably high production values, “Devil Touch” is still very much recognisable as the work of Tang, and the director manages to work in a handful of gory murders, rape scenes and even some mild lesbianism. Although none of these are particularly graphic, and are in fact limited by the film’s IIB rating, they do help to give the proceedings a nice sense of amorality, and make watching these beautiful people fashioning their often ludicrous plots against each other all the more enjoyable.
The film begins in fine style, as secretary Amy (Iris Chai, from the confusingly titled Hong Kong thriller “Violent Cop”) turns up for work and promptly goes berserk with a knife, attempting to stab her boss and ladder climbing executive, Cheuk (Michael Tao, also in the director’s “Street Angels”). After things calm down, Amy accuses Cheuk of sexual harassment and rape, a matter which causes great concern in the company since it just happens to be on the brink of an important merger. Rather than informing the police and creating a scandal, the company brings in internal investigator Joe (Alex Fong, from the excellent “One Nite in Mongkok”).
The result is that Amy gets a nice financial settlement in return for her silence, and Cheuk is forced to resign, freeing the chief executive position being created by the merger up quite conveniently for his bitter office rival Jacqueline (Pinky Cheung, star of “Raped by an Angel 3” and more recently the dire “Sex and the Beauties”). However, Joe smells a rat, and continues his investigation, uncovering a sleazy web of greed and ambition that turns deadly as the players begin to betray and blackmail each other in their desperate quests for personal gain.
The plot is actually incredibly convoluted, and there is a great deal more to it than outlined above. However, the film’s constant stream of deceptions and double dealings make for engrossing viewing, and it would be unfair to reveal any further details. Tang handles the narrative quite well, and although there are a fair few leaps in logic, requiring a considerable suspension of disbelief, the result is nonetheless very entertaining, if for nothing else than the sheer amount of skullduggery on show.
Aside from the incredibly smug investigator Joe, everyone else in the film is entirely motivated by self-interest, and is only too happy to resort to vicious underhanded tactics to achieve their goals. Tang plays this fact quite knowingly, never making much of an effort to generate sympathy for any of the characters, choosing instead to keep the viewer interested through the question of who will come out on top — or as the corpses start to pile up, who will be left alive.
Around halfway through the film, once the central deception has been uncovered, the tone does shift, and the narrative lurches into far more recognisable Tang territory, with a couple of rape scenes and gratuitous bloody murders. These actually follow on quite nicely from all the preceding back stabbings, and provide an effective change of pace, though they do rapidly transform the rest of the film into a ludicrous schlock ride, casually tossing away any of its earlier credibility. Whether this is a bad thing or not is debatable, as they make things very entertaining, leading to a ridiculously over the top climax involving a chainsaw, which has to be a first for a film which is ostensibly based around office politics.
There is a fair amount of sleaze in the film, though very little actual nudity. Tang goes instead for a teasing approach, with all the female cast members being clad in short skirts and dangerously low cut tops. Pinky Cheung, in particular, provides outstanding eye candy in her role as the consummate office ice queen, who just happens to have bisexual tendencies and a penchant for wandering around in her underwear. Again, whilst perhaps detracting from any kind of realism, it is sleaze such as this which boosts the film’s entertainment value, as Tang was no doubt all too aware.
On these grounds, “Devil Touch” certainly has a lot to offer viewers, and is undoubtedly Tang’s best film of the last few years. Although it is hampered by its IIB rating, the film still provides some moderately entertaining debauchery and some amusingly twisted plotting, making it worth watching for even casual fans of Hong Kong cinema.
Hin Sing ‘Billy’ Tang (director)