Directors: Oxide and Danny Pang. Hong Kong-Thailand. 2002. 98mins
An atmospheric blend of psychological thriller and eerie ghost story, The Eye sees director brothers Danny and Oxide Pang follow the highly stylised, hitman thriller Bangkok Dangerous (which won the FIPRESCI prize at Toronto two years ago) with a successful foray into Sixth Sense territory. Like M Night Shyamalan's box-office giant, the emphasis is on spine-tingling suspense and an intriguing storyline rather than gruesome special-effects or blood-spattered excess. Sophisticated genre fans will be strongly attracted to the end result. A box-office hit in Hong Kong over the summer - where it opened to HK$5.6m ($712,998) on 30 screens in early May and took $1.7m after four weeks - The Eye has already inspired plans for a sequel, while Cruise/Wagner have acquired English language remake rights. International prospects also look good: Korea Pictures release it in Korea this weekend, while Metro Tartan roll the film out in the UK on Sept 27.
Sharing vague plot similarities with more conventional Hollywood fare like Blink (1994) and the supernatural Kevin Costner vehicle Dragonfly (2002), The Eye follows the fate of 20-year-old Mun (Lee Sin-Jie). Blind since the age of two, she undergoes a risky corneal transplant to restore her vision. The operation appears to have been successful but Mun is soon plagued by visions of shadowy figures and visitations from the spirits of the recently departed. Soon it becomes apparent that she can see dead people. She has also inherited the donor's gift of being able to foresee death and the unresolved issues that the persecuted young woman took to her early grave.
Deliberately paced, The Eye takes its time to get into top gear. The opening scenes are a little dreary and lack sharp focus, but hints of what lie ahead soon arrive in the dark, mysterious corridors of the kind of hospital that wouldn't be out of place in Lars Von Trier's The Kingdom. First, nerves are set on edge by low moaning noises and fleeting glimpses of ghostly apparitions, while direct contact with the dead brings a sense of tension and dread. Sometimes, the most banal moments create the most unease. Released from hospital, Mun recuperates at her grandmother's apartment where she repeatedly meets a doleful schoolboy demanding: "Have you seen my report card'" Inevitably, he too is dead, having taken his own life over the missing item.
Highly respected for their skills as editors, the brothers are jointly credited on The Eye and prove highly effective in judging when to accelerate the chills and when to ease off and let the mystery deepen and intensify. Eventually, Mun uncovers the identity of the corneal donor and travels to a village in northern Thailand to confront the realities of what happened in the past. Only a subplot involving Mun's relationship with sympathetic psychotherapist Wah (Lawrence Chow) seems underdeveloped and tentative.
Building towards a fairly peaceful resolution, the film has one more ace up its sleeve that allows it to take the audience by surprise and deliver a spectacular climax. Even with its subtle sense of menace and unexpected developments, it's far from perfectly formed which means that any potential remake has scope for slavish imitation - but also possible improvement on the original source material.
Prod co: Applause Pictures, Raintree Pictures
Int'l sales: Fortissimo
Prods: Peter Ho-Sun, Lawrence Tan-Shui Cheng
Exec prod: Eric Tsang, Allan Fung, Daniel Yun
Scr: Pang Brothers, Jo Jo Hui Yuet-Chun
Cinematography: Decha Srimantra
Ed: Pang Brothers
Prod des: Kritapas Suttinet, Simon So
Mus: Orange Music
Main cast: Lee Sin-Jie, Lawrence Chow, Ko Yin Ping, Chutcha Rujinanon, Candy Lo