In America, 75% of all the nail salons are owned and operated by Vietnamese. For his directorial debut, Minh Duc Nguyen, a first-generation Vietnamese immigrant and a graduate of the University of Southern California’s prestigious Cinematic Arts program, chose this humble backdrop for a film about the power of human touch, with memorable performances by John Ruby, as Brendan, and featuring a debut performance by Porter Lynn, who plays Tam, that garnered her the Best Actress Award at the Boston International Film Festival.
Touch tells the story of a people who must make a living touching the hands of strangers, which is considered an act of intimacy in their culture. For the first time, a film shows the hidden life of women working in a typical nail salon from their points of view.
At V.I.P. Nails, Tam has a new customer, Brendan, a shy mechanic who literally has a problem on his hands. He can never get rid of the oil stains around his nails and when he tries to be intimate with his aloof wife, she always rejects him with the same excuse, “Your hands are filthy!”
Desperately seeking to save his marriage, Brendan goes to the nail salon every day where Tam does more than scrub his hands clean. She also offers him advice on how to get his wife to love him again. But soon, Tam and Brendan find themselves drawn to each other, an attraction which becomes harder and harder to resist. This sensual film explores the sense of touch and its emotional impact; how with just a simple touch, we can reveal our deepest longings, give the utmost pleasure to others, and even heal a wounded soul.
Touch is such a moving and intoxicating film. While trying to make a living and taking care of her father who is confined to a wheelchair, Tam longs for her mother who was recently killed in an automobile accident. She was close to her mother, and the mother was killed when the father finally relented and bought a new sports car and the two went for a ride. But this detail isn’t revealed until much later in the movie, after Tam and her father, who have been kind of estranged and who didn’t share closeness while Tam was growing up, have a heart wrenching meeting of the minds, after he had become so depressed about his situation.
But the main plots center on Tam giving manicures to Brendan, as well as giving him advice about how to hold onto his marriage. Tam serves as his manicurist and his therapist as she devises ways for Brendan to get closer to his wife. As he gets closer to his wife, he and Tam also become closer to each other, as she instructs him on giving his wife a bath, among other things. And this physical contact—at times only through touching—is what threatens to tip the scales for Brendan, just as he is making progress with his home life.
Tam finally realizes that whatever feelings she may have for Brendan can’t be acted upon, and she finally gives in to dating one of her co-worker’s nephews named Ky, played by Tony LaThanh, who works as an electrical engineer. I enjoyed this movie, as it turned out to be something much more than I expected. The shy Tam gives a great performance with her nuanced scenes and quiet demeanor. The manager of the salon, Bich, played by My Lan, is part serious and part comedienne, as are the other nail technicians. They sit around and speak in their native language, while servicing customers who are annoyed and curious as to what is being said. This is typical banter for nail salons everywhere. And Tam isn’t the only one who serves as a therapist; most of the customers come in and bend the ears of the technicians, with their sob stories about their husbands, jobs or children.
Another hit movie from Cinema Libre Studio, Touch is available on DVD June 18. Visit www.touchthemovie.com