The Eye (2002)

The Eye

At the tender age of two, Wong Kar Mun (Lee) lost her sight, leaving her totally blind for the better part of her life. Eighteen years on, revolutionary cornea surgery restores her vision, giving her new hope and a fresh start to her adult life. As light gradually penetrates the inky blackness that had been her world, Mun adjusts to the new realm around her, unaware that some of the shadows she sees are not actually there. With vision flooding back rapidly thanks to her new corneas, Mun starts become overwhelmed by startling, sometimes terrifying, visions. Tiny leukaemia patient Ying Ying (So) helps her through her initial difficulties, but once Mun returns from the confines of her hospital ward to the outside world, her life begins to descend into a waking nightmare.

Whilst assigned to clinical psychologist Wah (Chow), her visions become exceedingly more frequent, and vivid, as well as infinitely more terrifying. Her superstitious grandmother (Ko) worries that with Mun's newfound sight, something frighteningly unearthly may have crossed over with it. Her sister Yee (Lo) merely worries for her well-being. Seemingly everywhere she turns, Mun is confronted by an ever growing number of phantoms, largely suicide victims or those had suffered abrupt, violent deaths, and as the days progress so too does the malevolence of her unearthly apparitions. All indicators point towards Mun's operation being the catalyst for her sudden 'second-sight", but before she slips into maddening insanity, she confronts Wah demanding to know the origin of her donated corneas. Their search leads them to Thailand, and an altogether more frightening reality.

After the critical acclaim of their first joint collaboration, "Bangkok Dangerous" (1999), twin brothers Danny and Oxide Pang, found themselves facing the open arms of Peter Chan's newly formed Applause Pictures, a venture set up by the former UFO director designed with the specific intent to produce "Pan-Asian" films (i.e.: films that would be the cross-pollination of combined Asian regions). In its journey to the screen, "The Eye" eventually became a joint collaboration between Hong Kong's Applause Pictures, Thailand's Premier PR and Singapore's Raintree Pictures, making its pedigree an inspired one. What the Pang's have achieved with their final product is perhaps, outside of Law Chi Leung's "Inner Senses" (2002), one of the finest, as well as most frightening, supernatural thrillers that the Region has had a hand in for some time. Mind you, that's not really saying a lot, as Hong Kong has never had a reputation for producing great "spookies", but when sized up against their Japanese contemporaries, the Pang's have achieved nothing short of a minor miracle.

By exercising the larger amount of control over the final product (both brothers directed, wrote and edited the film, with Oxide serving under the extra cap on sound design), the film has benefited greater than if it had been overseen by a larger, more influential, creative force (like, for instance, Tsui Hark). With the overall firmer control of the film, obviously the audience has ended up with a production as true to the directors' original vision as you would expect. And what a vision that is! Like it's solely Hong Kong produced counterpart, "Inner Senses", "The Eye" wastes no time ushering in the frights en-masse, effectively leaving the viewer a near gibbering mess by less than an hour into the film. Likewise, the Pang's utilise an equally adorable actress as the focal point of their energies, herein being the quite wonderful Malaysian-born Angelica Lee. With a scarce two Hong Kong films under her belt prior ("Sunshine Cops" and "Princess D"), Lee invests her character with the right balance of naiveté and revelation to evoke the necessary audience empathy once the terrors of the plot being to unfold before her. There are a couple of other striking performances, but to give any more away would spoil the surprise. The less one is prepared going into the film, the better one will enjoy the encroaching mood and atmosphere of the piece.

"The Eye" confirms the Pang brothers as a definite twin talent to watch as, although only relative newcomers to the feature film industry, they understand their craft well, and harbour the talent to exercise their abilities to stunning potential. With finely honed, sometimes virtually experimental, cinematography by Decha Srimantra the film's look is almost as eclectic as its confident direction. There are passages where, through the language of film technique, the viewer manages to become unsettled enough that camera movement becomes almost as nerve-shredding as it remaining stationary. Such is the sense of impending terror that the Pang's generate, that one almost dreads ANY camera movement, should it reveal something far more frightening than the adrenalin pumping jolt it has just shocked us to the bone with! As with "Inner Senses", the majority of "The Eye's" jolts are of a aural nature, but when the Pang's throw forth a vision of visual distress, it's equally as unnerving as any of their sonic tricks. By keeping the element of surprise jarringly active (just when you think you've got it all figured out, the Pang's remind you you haven't), "The Eye" maintains its interest and remains one of the finer Asian ghost tales in some time. If you missed it theatrically, watch it late…turn up the sound…and then see how well you sleep with the lights off once it's over. You may just find yourself waking to burning bulbs.

For one of the finest horror films out of Asia in recent years, Panorama Entertainment's DVD release is a fairly disappointing affair. With no extra features, bar a handful of trailers for other product released on their label, that just leaves the feature itself. Thank God it's so damn good, as it makes an otherwise surprisingly average presentation actually quite bearable. Letterboxed at approximately 1.78, the film is presented in a non-anamorphic transfer on a single layer disc. With three audio options, and one of those being DTS, something obviously has to give, and that thing is sadly the compression. Day scenes look generally fairly good, but night/dark scenes exhibit quite a degree of artifacting, as well as a large amount of smearing and general colour bleed. This is largely pretty disappointing. Similarly so is the audio; if you don't have DTS capabilities then this disc will be a severe letdown, as the only other available audio options are Cantonese & Mandarin Dolby 2.0 stereo tracks. That said, the DTS track is quite exceptional, with a number of scenes making full use of directionality for optimum scare factor (it also gives a huge bang to the finale). But overall, this is a fair to average transfer aided greatly by top-notch audio for those who have the decoder available. Otherwise it's a bit of an ordinary affair for such a first-rate film.

Review by Mike Thomason

Released by Panorama Entertainment
Region All - NTSC
Audio - Cantonese DTS 5.1; Cantonese/Mandarin Dolby 2.0
Ratio - Widescreen 1.78
Extras :
Attractions trailers