TOUCH AND GO (aka POINT OF NO RETURN) (1991) review

What could a collaboration between Sammo Hung Kam-Bo and Ringo Lam in the early nineties look like, since the former was at the time known more for his hard-hitting but breezy comedies, and the latter already celebrated for his brutal and pessimistic style and outlook (having already directed such classics as City on Fire and Prison on Fire). In a way, this is a similar kind of pairing as when two years later the realistically-inclined Kirk Wong paired up with the perennially sunny (at least at the time) Jackie Chan for Crime Story. But Touch and Go didn’t fare quite as well as Crime Story would, artistically or financially. It tells of Goose (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo), a cook who witnesses the murder of a cop by a gang of sex traffickers headed by Tiger (Tommy Wong Kwong-Leung) with ties and “customers” high up even in the Hong Kong police. Goose agrees to testify against Tiger, but the latter is bailed out and proceeds to burn his restaurant down to scare him away from testifying. A terrified Goose finds help with Pitt (Yeung Ming Wan), the murdered cop’s partner, as well as his sister Angel (Teresa Mo) and a kind-hearted Mainlander May (Irene Wan) who was lured to Hong Kong only to be exploited by Tiger, who actually may have feelings for her…

Touch and Go is what you could call a “two-in-one”, that is to say it saunters from dark thriller with social undertones to light comedy so carelessly that you often have to wonder what you are watching exactly. It does do both styles pretty well however. Ringo Lam was already the master of unforgiving, grim cop thrillers, and whenever the film isn’t indulging in out-of-place pratfalls, it is a fairly gripping and brutal action film, realistically choreographed by Yuen Tak, and boasting an interesting subplot about the ramifications of sex trafficking in Hong Kong ; nothing new, but always good for added poignancy and moral implications. And Ringo Lam manages to sneak in his customary shades of grey : the villain of the piece, Tiger, may be a vicious criminal, but he harbours seemingly real feelings for May (an endearing performance by Irene Wan), and the cops who set out to arrest him don’t really care about Goose’s life being put in danger by his courageous testimony. Again, this is nothing new to the Hong Kong cops and criminals genre, but Ringo Lam has a way of making is even a bit more compelling.

Too bad this is offset by a bright comedy side to the film, with Sammo Hung Kam-Bo doing what was becoming a shtick at the time : bumbling, well-meaning, overweight underachiever with a heart of gold and strong principles. It’s always great to see Sammo do it, but he was already capable of much better. The endless scenes with his inquisitory mother and her search for a viable child-bearer for her son, as well as his childish crush on Angel, make the film grind to a stop.

Long Story Short : Touch and Go is a fine brutal cop thriller too often corrupted by bouts of unwelcome breezy comedy. ***


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