Jian gui : Hong Kong (HK/Thai/UK/Sing) 2002 : Pang Brothers : 99mins
Blind since early childhood, Mun (Angelica Lee Sin-Je) undergoes a cornea transplant and regains her sight – but soon experiences unwelcome visions of ghostly phantoms. No surgery is required, however, for viewers of The Eye to experience ‘visions’ of their own – the spectres of previous movies, which hover just as insistently as Mun’s nagging spooks. The Sixth Sense (as in “I see dead people”) is most obvious influence, but The Eye also belongs to the venerable ‘supernatural transplant’ sub-genre of horror that stretches way back to the many 1920s and 1930s variations on The Hands of Orlac. In addition, the Pang brothers are clearly hoping to surf what remaining ripples survive of the far-eastern horror tsunami sparked by Ring as in Hideo Nakata’s seminal chiller, Mun must travel to a remote rural village to exorcise her phantasmal demons, which she finds are linked to the violent death of a ‘witch-like’ young woman (shown in obligatory monochrome flashback).
Like Ring, The Eye is clearly intended primarily for domestic consumption – many western audiences may be bemused by several inappropriately jaunty selections of background music, for example. There’s a distinctly far-eastern aspect to the film’s obsessive interest in reincarnation and the fate of restless spirits – which are more neutral in intention than would be the case in most Hollywood variations on similar themes. Mun isn’t actually threatened by her visitors – they’re constitute a persistent nuisance that prevents her from getting on with her life.
This is a further parallel with Sixth Sense – and M Night Shyamalan was likewise more concerned with setting up a strong central idea than with developing it into a coherent, dramatic story. The Pang brothers’ screenplay suffers from a broken-backed structure: the first half builds nicely to a poignant climax with the death of a minor character, then there’s another long section in which Mun must trace the source of her visions. It’s engaging enough on a scene-by-scene basis, but there are too many slow and/or repetitive sequences, meaning The Eye never manages to feel as if it’s going anywhere in particular.
The Pangs often try to make up for the script deficiencies by gussying things up with some flashy camerawork and editing, but never dispel the suspicion that there’s less going on than meets ‘the eye’ (and why on earth is the title in the singular?). In a final, rather desperate throw of the dice, they unexpectedly serve up a pyrotechnic, apocalyptic climax which, while impressive enough in a Mothman Prophecies kind of way, actually makes very little sense. The Eye is at its strongest in claustrophobic moments like a tense ‘haunted-elevator’ sequence – this abrupt late switch into more shocking, stomach-churning imagery smacks more than a little of gratuitous shock tactics. And, despite a supposedly upbeat coda, Mun’s fate represents a very bleak type of happy ending indeed.
10th November, 2002
(seen 8th November, Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle)
by Neil Young