Dirs: Danny and Oxide Pang. Hong Kong. 2004. 94mins
Despite some truly edge-of-the-seat moments, The Eye 2, the Pang brothers' follow-up to one of Hong Kong's most successful recent horror exports, only partially lives up to its predecessor's promise.
Sporting new characters and a different cast, it shares the first film's theme of a young woman cursed with the ability to see ghosts. Technical credits, as always with Pang brothers' films, are slick, especially in the cinematography and art direction departments.
But the Thai twins' skills as editors and directors can only partially compensate for a second feature that feels padded at times, despite a fine performance from Shu Qi in the lead. One of Hong Kong's most charismatic Taiwanese-born stars, she brings her usual deft acting skills to the role of a terrified expectant mother, besieged by horrific visions.
The horror-pregnancy plot has very loose echoes of Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby. But while the Polish auteur did not waste time in relating the protagonist's terrifying pregnancy, here the Pang brothers hold scenes for too long or make them too extraneous.
In Hong Kong, The Eye 2 opened to lower box office than the first film ($0.75m, 40scrs) and by its third week had dropped to fifth. Elsewhere in Asia it has performed strongly, opening at number one in Malaysia (where it took 400% more than the first film) and setting the highest opening figures ever for a Chinese language film in Singapore. Plans for a third film -The Eye: Infinity - have now been brought forward, with an Asian release pencilled in for Halloween 2004. A promo reel - as well as Eye 2 - will screen in market at Cannes.
Further afield, success with horror audiences seems likely on both theatrical and ancillary (Metro Tartan has UK rights): the original is already in development for an English-language version under Cruise/Wagner Productions and Vertigo Entertainment. A script that could somehow exploit The Eye 2's mix of modern urban horror and ancient Buddhist undercurrents could also provide potent material for a Hollywood remake.
Shu Qi plays Joey Cheng, a disturbed young woman whose pregnancy the film follows from near its beginning to its very end. Distraught over her break-up with married boyfriend Sam (Pholdee), she attempts suicide and thereafter has strange visions of dead spirits, primarily those of a menacing twenty-something female (Eugenia Yuan, Leon Lai's co-star in Three). Joey's supernatural sightings understandably leave her agitated, but her hysterical reactions in public places like restaurants and hospitals leave the audience feeling more embarrassed for her than frightened.
The horrors are novel to begin with - for example bodies start thumping to earth while Joey waits at a bus stop - but for aficionados of the genre they may possess a predictability that dampens their cumulative effect.
The pace slows during Joey's visit to a Chinese cemetery, where a man gives an overly expository explanation of Buddhist reincarnation theory through a philosophy lesson. It's a theme that does lend the film some fascinating ideas and depth and eventually leads Joey - and the audience - to regard the wandering spirits in a different light. As a plot device, though, it feels underdeveloped and a somewhat uncreative way to integrate fairly weighty material.
By the end, however, the Pang Bros have managed to wrap the film up with a conclusion that is unexpectedly tender and thought provoking. It also provides the proceedings that have gone before it with a coda which ranks among the most interesting of any recent Hong Kong ghost story
Prod cos: Applause Pictures, Raintree Prods
HK dist: Golden Scene-Golden Harvest
Int'l sales: Fortissimo
Exec prods: Eric Tsang, Daniel Yun
Prods: Peter Ho-Sun Chan, Lawrence Cheng, Jojo Hui
Scr: Jojo Hui, from a story by Jojo Hui and Lawrence Cheng
Cine: Decha Srimantra
Ed: Pang Brothers
Prod des: Bruce Yu
Music: Payont Term Sit
Main cast: Shu Qi, Jesdaporn Pholdee, Eugenia Yuan, Philip Kwok