There's no "eye" in team
If there's one country that can wrest the Horror throne from the United States, it's Japan. With movies like The Ring and The Grudge getting remade in America and finding success, it's no surprise that other countries have gotten in on the idea. China isn't the first country to come to mind when most people think of horror movies, but like India and part of Europe, their scary movies are slowing making their way across the globe. These international movies are a blast of fresh air in a genre that is becoming increasingly overcrowded. They bring different culture, attitudes, and ideas to the screen which can great new and interesting stories. Today's review, The Eye, has been remade in the United States, but I am sticking with the original.
The Eye is a 2002 horror film from Hong Kong directed by the Pang brothers (Re-cycle, Bangkok Dangerous). The film stars Angelica Lee (Re-cycle, Sleepwalker) as Wong Kar Mun, a violinist who has been blind since the age of 2. Mun undergoes an eye cornea transplant with the hopes of regaining her eyesight. The transition to sight is painful and difficult at first, occasionally seeing shadowy figures that aren't really there. While in the hospital, Mun befriends a young girl named Ying Ying who is being treated for a brain tumor. One night, Mun awakens in her hospital bed to see another shadowy figure standing beside an old woman's bed. The figures leave the room together and Mun is shocked to find out that the woman died during the night. Mun begins seeing a psychologist named Dr.Wah (Lawrence Chou, Re-cycle, Forest Of Death) who is to help Mun learn how to associate objects by sight, not touch. Mun begins to see a little boy in her apartment building who asks if she has seen his report card. She talks to him on several occasions, but soon realizes that he isn't really there. The visions continue and become more disturbing, causing Mun to become isolated and shrouded in darkness. After a fainting spell, Mun returns to the hospital where she speaks to Ying Ying again. Ying Ying says she no longer needs surgery and walks away with a shadowy figure. Initially, Dr. Wah doesn't believe her, but seeing her in serious trouble brings them closer together. He is able to find out who the eye donor was and he and Mun travel to Thailand. Their search leads them to a hospital where a doctor tells them about Ling, the donor. Ling had visions of people's deaths, but the people of her town believed she was a witch and shunned her. One day, she had a vision of a horrible disaster to come, but the town ignored her and 300 people died in a fire. Unable to deal with her visions, Ling hanged herself in her house. Mun and Dr. Wah go to her house and meet with her mother who has never forgiven Ling for her suicide. That night, Ling's spirit possesses Mun and attempts to recreate her suicide. What will happen and will the visions ever stop?
This movie is certainly not laid our like a typical American horror movie and that's a good thing. The horror in The Eye comes more from creepy atmospherics than brutal gore or “jump-at-you” moments. The movie could best be described as a subtle chiller. Within the first few minutes of the movie, it is already established that something is not right with Mun's vision. Rather than having to wait 20 or 30 minutes for any hint of horror, The Eye gives us the notion right from the start and then gives us the character development and back story. The audience is right there with Mun when she gets her eyesight back and are along for the ride as the strange visions begin. Typically, you would think that the shadowy figures she sees, ushering people after death would be seen as the villains of the movie, but they're not treated as such. Surprisingly, there are no villains in the movie, something I think would be more difficult to pull off for an American movie. We like our good guys and bad guys and it was nice to see the movie focus just on Mun and her new found “gift”. There is very little violence to speak of , and with the exception of a scene at the end, I'm not really sure why the movie received an “R” rating.
The Pang brothers do a fantastic job of directing. Their shots are creative and various with nothing being too overdone. Angles are just used for the sake of being different. They capture the subtle emotion and poignancy of the characters. The movie has a decent pace, especially considering there is very little action to speak of. It did feel a little long though, clocking in at about 98 minutes. Maybe it was just my American mind craving an explosion that made it feel too long. I can see being being bored with the movie as it dips into various genres and goes for subtle psychological scares instead of big, visual ones. The acting is very good with Angelica Lee putting in the best performance. While there are many special effects, some of them are a bit weak, like one scene where the ignition of a car is unnecessarily computerized. The computerization looking closer to Windows Flight Simulator than the real thing. The ending tries to end on a happy note, despite it being quite depressing. I think it would have been better either to have a straight happy ending or straight sad as the mixture of both just felt awkward.
Pin the tail on the spirit
While the story itself has been done before, The Eye puts more effort into character development and emotion than most. It makes for a better movie, but it does drag at times in the entertainment. The scares are subtle, foregoing the blood and violence, for twists and turns. There is a cultural difference when watching from a Western point-of-view, but it doesn't really take away from the movie. The acting is good and the direction is great. I could have done without some of the special effects and a little more action would have been good. The movie was thankfully in it's original language, but there are dubbed versions out there in multiple languages if you don't feel like reading. I'm not quite sure if The Eye is a ghost movie or a spirit movie, but it's a modern take on Greek tale of Cassandra. The Eye has spawned multiple sequels and a remake starring Jessica Alba. It's best to stick with the original.