There is an old horror story about a normal law-abiding citizen getting a transplant from a psychopathic killer. The killer’s body part still has the memory of its former owner and wants to take up the killings again.
This premise has been aped in countless movies and TV shows, most notably in Body Parts starring Jeff Fahey and that Simpsons episode where Homer has Snakes hair transplanted to his bald head. It is a pretty tired premise; one that has been done so many times all the originality has been drained from it. I’m waiting for the day when Hollywood green lights a picture about a little girl who gets a toe transplant from Charles Manson.
Chinese directors, the Pang brothers try to breathe some life into the concept with their 2002 feature, The Eye. Unfortunately, it is the first of the so-called Asian Extreme pictures that I’ve seen that I’ve found to be rather lackluster.
It isn’t for a lack of trying. The Pang brothers bring an eye of originality to the premise and create an atmosphere that is quite creepy and interesting. At least in the first half.
In this case, the transplanted body parts are eyeballs. A young blind girl, Wong Kar Mun (Angelica Lee) receives an eye transplant and thusly begins seeing dead people, a la The Sixth Sense.
The Brothers Pang introduce this concept by having the dead show up in shadows. Visually the first half of the film is stunning. We see the world through Mun’s adjusting-to-sight eyes and there are creeping things lurking just about everywhere. In an impossible-to-explain, but absolutely must-see series of scenes Mun comes to understand that what she sees with her eyes is beyond the realm of the natural. As a viewer, I was knocked upside the head by the brilliant display of imagery
There is no “I see dead people” revelation here. The revelations come slowly, building tension along the way. Having no concept of vision, Mun has no understanding of what is real and what may be supernatural. By allowing the audience to understand quickly what Mun must slowly learn, the film is quite effective in creating a sense of horror.
The camera pans slowly around corners as the music builds anticipation to what could be hiding just out of sight. There are nice jolts of music as the camera reveals a new surprise. Here it seems the Pang brothers have taken a page out of the American scary movie pages instead of the Asian counterpart. Scare the people with jolts instead of developing actual creepy situations.
In the second half, the film begins to truly unravel. With only a few conversations, Mun manages to have her psychotherapist, fall in love with her and be willing to drop everything and travel to Thailand to investigate the donor of her dead-seeing eyes.
From horror, the movie now travels into a melodramatic mystery. The doctor and Mun find dark secrets in the story of the young lady who had Mun’s eyes first. Of course, they are forced into setting things right, and the movie pretty much falls apart. Oh, it’s nothing terrible or cringe-inducing, but it is formulaic and not nearly as interesting as the first two-thirds of the film.
I found The Eye in the foreign section of my local Blockbuster. It was well worth the five dollars I laid down for it, if just for the glorious visuals of the first half.