A blind woman's restored vision begets more than she bargained for in chilling Hong Kong import 'The Eye'
After miracle corneal-transplant surgery at age 20, a shy Hong Kong woman who has been blind since age two is suddenly thrust into sensory overload by her new fifth sense.
With her mind overwhelmed by the flow of visual input, she's so confused and disoriented that at first she doesn't realize that some of what she's seeing in her new world isn't of this world. Along with her reborn fifth sense has come a "Sixth Sense"-like sixth sense -- through the dead organ donor's corneas, she sees dead people.
"The Eye" is a film by the creative, Thai-born Pang Brothers, whose darkly moody 2001 action-drama "Bangkok Dangerous" also featured a hero with a disability -- a deaf-mute assassin. This new effort is a bona fide goosepimpler in which poor Mun (Lee Sin-Je) can't get away from the ghosts because she sees them everywhere.
Haunting the halls of the apartment building where she lives with her mother and sister are a little boy who killed himself over a poor report card and a disturbingly emaciated old man who floats silently in the elevator, facing the corner and only turning around and moving forward when Mun enters alone. On the freeway she sees a man standing between lanes of traffic. At a cafe, the dead wife of the cook hovers outside the window, their baby in her arms and no leg extending from her spectral skirt.
In the hospital after her operation she sees blurry shapes in black (they look like out-of-focus mimes -- which is unintentionally funny) that come to take the dead. Those shapes become harbingers of doom that eventually leave Mun seeming nuts to everyone except her doctor (Lawrence Chou) -- a handsome young man who has begun thinking of her as more than just a patient as he helps her establish a visual recognition of everyday objects. (Mun doesn't know what a stapler looks like, for example -- only what it feels like.)
The Pang Brothers do an outstanding job with the bone-chilling atmosphere of "The Eye," and it only gets more unsettling, and more frequently startling, as Mun's searches for answers to her visions (why is this happening to her and what do her donated corneas have to do with it?) and the disturbing nightmares that have accompanied them.
But Mun's disorientation from her sudden re-entry into the seeing world goes surprisingly under-explored in the Pangs' script. Her whole world has changed, and it would be confusing enough without ghosts entering into the picture. Yet her adjustment to being sighted is a minor part of the story. She never, for example, reaches out to touch the ghosts she sees to confirm their reality with a sense more native to her experience.
In fact, the film does a better job of illustrating her blindness in the Braille-transforming-to-text opening credits -- which play over the eerie image of a balloon-skin-like white surface with the impressions of hands roaming over it from the other side -- than it does depicting her adjustment to sight.
Regardless of its shortcomings, "The Eye" literally gave me the chills at least a dozen times (no cheap horror-movie jump-frights here), and that's what counts. But the untapped potential here does make me more curious than usual to see the inevitable Hollywood remake.
It seems Tom Cruise's company, Cruise/Wagner Productions, has bought the rights. And while "Vanilla Sky" -- their remake of the ingenious, unnerving, Spanish psychological thriller "Open Your Eyes" -- was a soft-served, over-produced disappointment, it did flesh out story elements in exactly the way this movie doesn't.