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EYE, THE (Jian gui) (director/writer/editor: Oxide and Danny Pang; screenwriter: Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui; cinematographer: Decha Srimantra; music: Orange Music; cast: Angelica Lee (Mun), Lawrence Chou (Dr. Wah), Chutcha Rujinanon (Ling), Edmund Chen (Dr. Lo), Yut Lai So (Ying Ying), Yin Ping Ko (Mun’s grandmother), Candy Lo (Mun’s sister), Pierre Png (Dr. Eak); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Lawrence Cheng/Peter Ho-Sun Chan; Palm Pictures; 2002-Hong Kong, in Cantonese with English subtitles)
“The Pang Brothers rely on mixing reality with hokum to make their tale more strange than scary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The creepy Hong Kong supernatural thriller is directed by the Thai-born, Hong Kong-based twins, Danny and Oxide Pang (“Bangkok Dangerous“/”Who’s Running“). The Pang Brothers were inspired to make The Eye by a newspaper report from some years ago about a young woman who committed suicide soon after she underwent a successful corneal transplant. They wondered if seing the world for the first time had made her so depressed. The brothers seem pressed to show that maybe not all people are better off seeing the world with their eyes. Tom Cruise’s production company is set to remake this in Hollywood.

The Eye is about a pretty twentysomething violonist named Wong Kar Mun (Lee Sin-je) blind since age two who after receiving a transplant of corneas, donated from a Thai girl who committed suicide, begins to see apparitions and presage deaths and disasters. The Pang Brothers rely on mixing reality with hokum to make their tale more strange than scary. It presses the button on the viewer’s fear of blindness and their familiarity that hospital surgeries can go wrong to make its case about the possibility of Mun inheriting her donor’s dubious gift to see into the other world. The ghosts are not threatening, but are viewed as being unhappy as they are stuck between the living and next world.

When the bandages come off after Dr. Lo operates, things are blurry as Mun still hasn’t adjusted to using her eyes. While walking the corridors of the hospital ward at night and still suffering from blurry vision, Mun finds that seeing is not always believing as she comes upon the ghost of a moaning patient in the company of a shadowy figure. The next morning the old woman patient has kicked the bucket.

Released by the Hong Kong hospital to live with her granny, Mun’s first dropped off by her flight attendant sister to begin treatment with the young psychotherapist, Dr. Wah (Lawrence Chou), whose uncle was her surgeon. Mun’s parents were divorced seven years ago, and her father now lives in Vancouver.

Mun looks in the mirror and instead of seeing herself, sees the probable face of her donor. Soon she sees visions of other dead people such as a headless man in an elevator, and is particularly alarmed in her granny’s apartment building when she comes across in the hallway a young boy’s ghost who recently committed suicide. Fearing that she is losing her mind, she clamors for Wah to help. The doting therapist is at first reluctant to believe her ghost tales, but is so smitten that he responds in a manner beyond his professional duty.

This leads Mun and Wah to go to Thailand and track down the donor, a young girl named Ling who had that gift but felt cursed because she was always bullied by the ignorant neighborhood children for being different. As Mun learns more about this ghost, she feels she can be free of this ghostly curse by resolving Ling’s restless spirits that trapped her between both worlds.

Mun exclaims at one point that her suffering is greater than it ever was when she was blind. It becomes apparent that she wants to be ordinary, that this extraordinary gift of seeing what others can’t is painful and comes with too high of a price tag. The film builds to an unexpected disastrous conclusion, where Mun’s gift is once again challenged and her circumstances once again become radically changed. The biggest lesson might be: one should always be careful for what they wish, they might get it.

The photography in the affluent part of Hong Kong reflects the prosperity of that bustling city by its silver bluish tints, but when the film moves to Thailand the photography becomes more orange shaded and primitive–reflecting an impoverished country.

The Pang Brothers have crafted a fine psychological ghost story within the rules of the transplant horror genre without going for a special effect movie of bogus scares. I just found it a little too mild for my taste, and that formulaic mixing of reality with hokum became unbalanced as the film moved along with too much in the end going in favor of the hokum. When it focused on facing the everyday things of life, The Eye seemed to have a power to see through things and provide some real chills. Angelica Lee was convincing as a young woman frightened by her visions. But when it played with the conflict between being ordinary or extraordinary and seemed to side with the former because it was easier to handle, I felt let down. The film itself was geared more to the ordinary than to the visionary. It was also more derivative than fresh.

REVIEWED ON 10/23/2003 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”