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The Eye

The success of Ringu and its subsequent remake The Ring means we are in for a storm of import horror pictures. Fortunately, we are at the start of this trend and so there are some good pictures for distributors to pick from before we get down to the meat of the blandwagon. On the vanguard of this art house boom is the Pang Brothers' The Eye, a creepy take on an old story that promises more than it delivers.

After a good little scare to throw the audience off balance, the picture settles into what can only be described as low-key creepy. A blind girl, Mun (Angelica Lee), goes under the knife, receiving a corneal transplant. As she begins to slowly recover her sight, she befriends a little girl with a brain tumor named Ying-ying (Yut Lai So). One night Mun sees an old lady leave her bed with a thin shadowy figure. Following into the hall, a white faced woman startles Mun while complaining about the cold.

All but the truly horror-illiterate know that we are in an "I see ghosts" picture. The nice twist is that at least Mun has an excuse for not putting it together right away. She doesn't know that women don't walk around with their faces painted white, or that people in the dark don't appear to be in soft focus. Her first real clue that things are wrong comes in the morning with the news that the old woman has passed away.

She takes the "that's odd but let's move on" denial approach, but as creepier and creepier things happen to her, she starts to understand that things are amiss. Set against this horror staple, Mun's story of trying to fit back into her new life with sight fascinates.

Newly blessed with a full set of senses, she finds almost nothing but hardships. She finds herself no longer welcome in the orchestra for the blind and she can't recognize everyday items without touching them. To help her with the second problem she is sent to handsome Dr. Wah (Lawrence Chou), a psychologist who will help her relearn her "visual vocabulary."

Filled with a bunch of great creep-outs and even a few good stings, The Eye builds an interesting atmosphere and opens many doors for the plot to travel down. The problem comes with the start of Act III, when the picture ditches the entire first hour for a lame attempt at a conclusion which doesn't take all that well, and then, out of desperation, an unnecessary action sequence.

While this huge misstep doesn't ruin the picture it does keep it from rising above good into great. Of course, the way the last few years of cinema have gone we've learned to lower our standards so that 'good' is good enough.

So many unused themes are introduced that mentioning them just seems like a waste of time. Mun plays the violin, an instrument of inexact interpretation much like her slowly healing eyes. Her conductor even refers to her as Ms. Tone Deaf at one point, but this idea that she is "playing" her eyes incorrectly seems to be there but buried and unexploited. Completely unexplored is the idea that Mun's corneas are actually from a dead person. Instead the picture goes with an explanation which doesn't fit with the rest of the picture.

Roger Corman's classic X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes plays on some of these themes and The Eye's slow, talky beginning plays a lot like the start of the classic. Much like our Wachowski Brothers, The Pangs drip with directorial style but their overall scripting leaves more than a little to be desired.

Like the classic jazz quote, the Pangs know how important empty space is in a story about what is and isn't there. One particularly memorable sequence comes when Mun sees an old man in her elevator but when she checks the security monitors he is gone.

As mentioned before, some great doors are opened by this picture but The Pangs don't use what they have. This lack of economy keeps The Eye out of the must-see realm, but it's still certainly worth a viewing for horror fans and Hong Kong fans alike.

Maybe some of these problems will be fixed in the inevitable American remake (rights already purchased by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner -- editor), but the way this year has been going I'm not expecting much for the next decade or so. "I've seen too much" is obviously a dramatic theme that goes back quite a ways and The Eye has a good tragic/happy ending when all the cards are in. But the way we finally get there disappoints.

What's It Worth? $7.25

Jordan Rosa

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