9/15/09

Terrifying Tuesday: The Eye (2002)

With one year behind me and zero J-horror titles reviewed, I probably don’t have to tell you that I am not a big fan of the genre. No matter if you are talking Japanese originals or the American remakes, I have never had much interest in horror from the Land of the Rising Sun. However, lately I’ve been wondering if I unfairly judged the whole panorama of Japanese horror from the lackluster response that films like Ringu or Ju-On elicited from me. So this week I thought I would give it another try and check out a film that sounded pretty interesting to me, The Pang Brother’s 2002 film The Eye.

It’s got a pretty basic story that reads a bit like The Hands of Orloc crossed with The Sixth Sense with a dash of Stir of Echoes thrown in as well. Mun has been blind since she was two years old, but now a donor has been found and Mun will receive a cornea transplant. After getting her new set of peepers, things are strange from the start with blurry figures confounding her vision. She is taken to Dr. Wan, a dashing young psychoanalyst, who will help Mun acclimate her brain to her newfound sight. Unfortunately, what he can’t help her with are all the strange sights she continues to encounter. Soon it becomes clear that the people she keeps seeing are the tortured deceased, and so with the help of Wan she travels to Thailand to find out who her donor really was.

The Eye was the second feature for The Pang Brothers following their 1999 Thai action film Bangkok Dangerous, and it was their first foray into the horror genre. What begins as an elegantly filmed and atmospheric film stumbles along the way ending up only delivering on some of the promise of the opening act. What really struck me most about the opening of the film was the deft use of focus to draw the viewer into the world of the newly sighted Mun. The spectral appearances happen on the edge of her vision, and like Mun, the audience is sufficiently creeped out by what lies just outside the realm of sight. By the time Mun encounters a woman eerily floating as she whips around the young woman dizzily, I was firmly entrenched in the world the Pangs had set up.

I was drawn in further by the excellent performance of Angelica Lee as Mun. This was the fourth film for Lee, a Malaysian born pop star, and her portrayal of the newly sighted girl is the integral component to enhance the cinematography. Throughout the film Lee projects such a wonderful balance of innocence and strength that she became quite the compelling character. Sadly, the same can’t be said of the film’s other main character, Laurence Chou as Dr. Wan. I won’t be the first to say it or the last, but Chou was way to young and perfectly coiffed to be believable as a Doctor of any sort. In addition, his acting was wooden at best, and the scenes that he shares with Lee only serve to make his faults more obvious. His performance is the first bad mark against the film, but much worse mistakes remain.

Unfortunately, I can’t really go too far into it because it would quickly lead into spoiler territory, but I will say what I can. The third act of the film in which Mun travels to Thailand to find out more about the cornea donor changes the entire tone of the film. The creepy ghosts floating around, asking for their report card, or making elevator rides more uncomfortable than ever are sidelined in favor of the tiniest of mysteries and a finale that is built around a massive CG sequence that seems very out of place with the rest of the film. Even the emotional scenes involving the donor’s mother are devoid of tension. The film had me on the edge of my seat right up until their bus ride into Thailand, and from that point on it felt like some other movie, one devoid of the artistic or atmospheric notes the film hit in its early moments.

I don’t know that The Eye changed my mind about J-horror, but it surely did not have the stereotypical moments that I expected to see. After all, there were zero creepy little girls and no one crawled on a ceiling. For two thirds of its running time, I really thought that it might bring me around, but the ending caused me to entirely lose interested in the scenario and the character that had been built up so well. I have no idea how the American remake stacks up, and I doubt I will ever find out. If The Eye had remained the same movie from beginning to end, then it surely would have gotten a place on a list of my favorite supernatural films. Instead it just ended up being a bunch of ghosts in a film that was completely busted.

Bugg Rating


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