Danny and Oxide Pang respect the genre and take it just seriously enough to make a highly effective horror.
“Some people say, this world is ugly yet, it is beautiful at the same time. I don’t know if they are right But I’m about to see the world with fresh eyes”
It can be a bit hard to review a horror film like The Eye. At first glance, it seems like nothing more than your standard east-Asian horror, reminiscent of films such as Ju-On and Ringu. And in a lot of ways, that’s not an inaccurate estimation. Horror, like a lot of action movies, can be a bit difficult to tell apart, especially if there’s nothing particularly striking about them. But like the good action films that can take a tired formula and make it fresh, The Eye never really feels like it’s being repetitive or boring.
Wong Kar Mun (Angelica Lee), a violinist who has been blind since childhood, receives a cornea transplant and although she is initially thrilled by this, things take a turn for the terrifying when she begins to see things that aren’t there: her room changes into one she’s never seen before, shadowy figures stalk the streets, and ghosts begin to appear everywhere. Tormented, and believing she is losing her mind, she goes to see her doctor’s nephew, Dr Wah, (Lawrence Chou) a psychologist. Wah agrees to go with her to Thailand, to talk to the family of the woman whose eyes were donated and uncover the mystery.
Where The Eye succeeds where a lot of movies don’t is in its ability to hold on scenes, and let the creepy atmosphere do the work. The Pang Brothers are excellent at building up the terror, never giving us any proper jump scares but instead filling us with a sense of dread that something terrible is right behind us, looking over our shoulders.
There are some genuine scares here. Some are obvious and lingered on, but the best ones are tiny, absolutely terrifying moments in the background of scenes that don’t call any attention to themselves, so when you see them, you get the impression that you’ve actually seen a ghost. One of my favourites involves the two characters on a train, talking. The focus is on them, but there are multiple train windows on either side of them. It only becomes apparent if you’re looking at the décor instead of the characters but briefly, when they go into a tunnel, a ghostly woman is seen reflected in one of the windows. It’s a tiny moment, and incredibly easy to miss, but it’s the little touches like that that elevate this film from being just a regular generic horror.
It doesn’t help that our main protagonist is immensely likeable. She does nothing to provoke these visions – unlike, say, horror victims in Western films, where the horror is usually a punishment for something they’ve done – but never feels like an annoying victim. She remains strangely calm throughout, and acts as a great audience surrogate. The rest of the cast is fine as well, but it’s Lee’s performance that is front and centre.
In an interview with the Asian News Network, Oxide (fantastic name, by the way) said that they were inspired by a story they read in the paper where a 16-year-old girl committed suicide after receiving the same transplant as Mun and wondered what she could have seen. This becomes obvious when you realise that the human element – both Mun’s story, but also the mini stories that come with each ghost appearance (a boy who fell to his death chasing a report card, a little girl Mun befriends in the hospital, a butcher who wishes his deceased wife and child would appear to him) – are the real driving force of the movie. The majority of the tense scenes square in on Mun’s reactions. We’re frightened because she is.
The film does have a big weakness. The ending isn’t particularly strong, and tries very hard to come full circle, which works against it to some extent. It ends nicely, and then carries on for another ten or so minutes, as if setting up a sequel. Then it wraps up again, but it feels forced. There are some decent parallels between Mun and the donor’s life (played effectively in her brief moments on screen by Chutcha Rujinanon), but those could have fit earlier in the film. That said, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it, it just seems out of place, or at least out of time.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t distract that much and by itself isn’t even a bad piece, certainly doesn’t do much to ruin the film. The Eye is a solid example of East Asian horror – a great “first-time” film for people not familiar with the genre.
Verdict: The Eye provides nothing groundbreaking but it’s great scares and excellent pacing put it above similar works.
The Eye (2002)
Also known as: Gin gwai
Director Danny Pang, Oxide Pang
Writer Yuet-Jan Hui, Pang Brothers
Wong Kar Mun Angelica Lee
Dr Wah Lawrence Chou
Ying Ying Yut Lai So
Yee Candy Lo
Dr Lo Edmund Chen
Yin Ping Ko Grandma
Ling Chutcha Rujinanon