A pokey but pleasant romantic drama, "Touch" chronicles the developing attraction between a withdrawn Vietnamese-American manicurist and a working-class Joe in need of clean hands to address his marital woes.

A pokey but pleasant romantic drama, “Touch” chronicles the developing attraction between a withdrawn Vietnamese-American manicurist and a working-class Joe in need of clean hands to address his marital woes. Writer-director Minh Duc Nguyen’s first feature could have used a bit more narrative complication and tension to sustain its slender premise over nearly two hours, but it has a low-key appeal nonetheless. Theatrical exposure (pic opened March 9 in San Jose, with a single Orange County screen added for March 16) will be modest, preceding decent home-format prospects.

Tam (Porter Lynn) is the new manicurist at a Los Angeles nail shop where she differs from her Vietnamese co-workers by creating elaborate, fanciful nail designs — and contributing nothing to their often bawdy chatter. While they gossip about their (and customers’) sex lives, she’s living a monastic existence not exactly brightened by weekend visits to cook and clean for a gruff father (Long Nguyen) left paralyzed by the car accident that killed her beloved mother (Hiep Thi Le, seen in flashbacks).

Things get more interesting at work with the arrival of Brendan (John Ruby), a shy, lanky auto mechanic whose increasingly remote wife (Melinda Bennett) hasn’t allowed more than a peck on the cheek in nearly a year, saying she can’t stand to be touched by hands invariably “filthy” after work. An industrial-strength scouring does the trick in making Brendan look like a white-collar worker from the wrist outward, but it only begins to thaw his spouse’s chilly vibes.

As Brendan keeps returning to Tam for advice as well as cleanups, a spark grows between them even as his domestic relations improve. Soon they’re pushing the customer-client envelope via barely platonic private sessions (including nude baths) at her apartment. Meanwhile, Tam’s angry dad plumbs new depths of self-pity, and she has her own issues of self-worth to overcome in accepting the attentions of a suitor (Tony Lathanh).

Story doesn’t ultimately head where one might have expected, but could have exerted a little more energy and surprise doing so, its tone dominated by lovely but under-expressive newcomer Lynn’s one-note performance. Other thesps are effective, however, as are tech/design elements within modest means.

Touch

Production

A Gray Picture production. Produced by Mellissa Tong. Executive producers, Long Nguyen, Duc Chinh, Vi Ly. Directed, written, edited by Minh Duc Nguyen.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Morgan Schmidt; music, Marcello De Francisci; production designer, Azra Bano Ali; art director, Laura Mazza; costume designers, Inka Sherman, Melissa Joy Wilson; sound, Michael O'Heney; re-recording mixer, Greg Conway; assistant directors, Elaine Gibson, Josh Garrell; casting, Mellissa Tong. Reviewed at San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival, March 11, 2012. (Also in Seattle, Cinequest film festivals.) Running time: 109 MIN.

With

Porter Lynn, John Ruby, Melinda Bennett, Long Nguyen, Hiep Thi Le, Trisha Nguyen, Tony Lathanh, My Lan, Tuy Thanh, Eliza Ngo, Bety Le.

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