Saturday, March 17, 2012

#128: The Eye (Pang Brothers, 2002)

Wong Kar Mun (Angelica Lee) has been blind since the age of two. She doesn't remember what it was like to see. She lives in a high-rise apartment in Hong Kong with her grandmother and flight attendant sister, who is often out of town for work. She lives a largely quiet life, her sole outlet for independence a spot playing violin in an orchestra comprised of blind musicians. When she gets the chance to have a cornea transplant that may restore her vision, she goes for it. The operation is largely successful, and Wong begins adjusting to the life of a sighted person with the help of a hospital psychologist, Dr. Wah (Lawrence Chou), who looks like he's about 12 years old.
The new corneas aren't all puppy dogs and rainbows. Along with the sights of the natural world, Wong can also see ghosts. Some of these ghosts are pretty disturbing. Wong eventually reaches a breaking point and refuses to leave the apartment, until Dr. Wah convinces her to accompany him in tracking down the identity of the cornea's previous owner and solving the mystery of the hauntings. Then some other shit happens.

My fairly uninspired plot synopsis may lead you to believe there is not much to say about this movie, and you would be right. That's not a slam. This is a pretty effective ghost story with some great scenes, but it's also a straightforward, mainstream horror film with a pretty pedestrian screenplay. I like it, but I also think it's one of the weakest films on the usually fantastic Rue Morgue list. Despite my reserved admiration, the film has connected with worldwide audiences, inspiring three sequels and an American remake starring Jessica Alba. I haven't seen the remake, but I'm going to say it's horrible because there have only been 30 good Hollywood films, tops, since 2000, and also because Alba is a pretty but wooden actress who couldn't carry a 30-second shoe commercial, much less an entire movie.
I'll get into my problems with this film first, then move on to what I liked about it. I'll start with that screenplay. The characters only say things that move the plot forward and almost never say things that show who they are as people.

Sometimes, this dialogue is full of forced exposition, which is one of my top movie pet peeves. For example, Wong and her grandmother watch some old home movies of Wong and her sister as children shortly after Wong gets her sight back. "Your father videotaped these moments in case you got your sight back," her grandmother tells her. "That was before your father and mother divorced. Your parents divorced eight years ago." I'm glad her grandmother told her this because blind people don't understand how time works, apparently. In another scene, Wong is meeting her psychologist for the first time. "You used to be blind," he tells her. "Now, you have your sight back." Thanks, doc. He holds up a stapler. "Since you went blind at the age of two, you lack most of your visual language and must learn it. What is this object?" he asks her. Then, before she can answer, he puts the stapler in her hand and says, "You will know it's a stapler when you touch it." All the screenwriters would have had to do was modify this dialogue slightly to make it less stupid, but they took the lazy way out. Fortunately, this kind of moronic exposition is largely confined to the early scenes.

Two more gripes. The actors aren't bad, by any means, but they lack personality and distinction, and the viewer never gets a sense of them as people. They're too fresh-faced and anonymous. The other problem is a common one. The film runs out of gas in the final third when the mystery must be solved. I lose interest with most mainstream films when the plot threads have to come together for either a giant action scene or an explanation of events (or both). I've never been a plot guy, even as a little kid. I've always been an atmosphere, character, and form guy, so most of what I like about movies is gone by the conclusion in films lacking a strong, personal vision.

I have some complaints about The Eye, but I don't want to drive you away from it. There's lots of good stuff, too. The film's middle 45 minutes, in which Wong sees a variety of ghosts, is well done. Two scenes in particular, one in a beef and noodle restaurant and the other in an elevator, are fantastic. The tension is masterfully manipulated. These are solidly creepy moments, and well worth your time. The film's entertainment value is high. Despite its flaws, it builds in momentum for much of the first two-thirds and becomes more absorbing with each ghost sighting. It would make a good Halloween rental for a small gathering.
The Pang Brothers, Danny and Oxide (yeah, Oxide), are identical twins who started out as editors and became successful directors in their birth home of Hong Kong and ancestral home of Thailand. They've also made a couple of Hollywood productions, though those have been less successful. One of those was a Nicolas Cage-starring remake of their own film, Bangkok Dangerous. I've only seen The Eye, so I don't have much to say about them as filmmakers. I'm going to go ahead and wrap up this less-than-stimulating post now. See you in a few weeks.

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