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Woman's visions cast eerie pall in 'Eye'

June 06, 2003|Manohla Dargis | Times Staff Writer

In the agreeably spooky horror movie "The Eye," a beautiful young woman discovers that seeing isn't just a matter of believing -- it's a question of believing in ghosts. Blind from a young age and now in her early 20s, Hong Kong native Mun (Lee Sin-Je) regains her sight after a cornea transplant operation. Later, while finding her way amid the unfamiliar hospital blurs, she spots a figure lurking in the ward, then nearly bumps foreheads with a moaning patient wandering the halls. The next morning, she learns that the moaning woman died during the night, about the time Mun was on her walkabout.

After she's released, things go from weird to downright creepy. Life in the newly visible world brings complication and ocular confusion, but it's the strangely immaterial, unearthly figures roaming about this world that prove to be Mun's larger problem. In her hallway at home, where she lives with her sister and grandmother, Mun periodically runs into an odd boy who keeps muttering about his report card and displays a peculiar taste for funerary candles. And, in calligraphy class (after a lifetime without sight, she only reads Braille), there's the creature who lunges at her from across the room. "Why are you sitting in my chair," howls the apparition, throwing the question like a knife while Mun's teacher looks on, befuddled and unaware.

One of the minor plagues of everyday existence, unruly and errant body parts are a horror genre staple. In the oft-remade classic "The Hands of Orlac," a pianist becomes a murderer after undergoing a hand transplant, while in the granddaddy of misbehaving flesh, "Frankenstein," it's the jagged pieces that make the puzzle. It doesn't take long for Mun to realize that the otherworldly shapes crowding her periphery, including an old man floating in the elevator and missing a large chunk of his head, have something to do with her donated corneas. It takes her somewhat longer to persuade her young psychiatrist (Lawrence Chou) that she's not lost her mind by regaining her vision, and somewhat more effort to untangle the metaphysical why and the concrete how behind her unwelcome new gift.

This is the third feature from filmmakers Oxide and Danny Pang, whose earlier films "Who's Running" and "Bangkok Dangerous" made the rounds on the international festival circuit and have helped shine a spotlight on new Thai cinema. Given the uncertainties of subtitling, especially when it comes to Asian movies, it's difficult to gauge the complexities and nuances of the pair's dialogue (the script was co-written with Jojo Hui), but the brothers clearly know what they're doing behind the camera and in the editing room. Their sense of pacing is nicely arrhythmic, which makes the "boo" moments all the more heart-thudding, but what's even more pleasurable are the pockets of quiet, those lacuna of low-frequency dread when nothing much happens.

Whether Mun is scaring herself in a mirror, adrift in a corridor flooded with sickly algae-green light or watching fat drip off a roasted duck like blood, the Pangs remind us that nothing is more terrifying than life, not even death. Of course now that "The Eye" has been slated for a Hollywood remake, however, it will be an interesting question whether the Pangs' homemade terrors -- as pungent as they are unpretentious -- will be a match for the terrors that often attend most remakes, intentional and otherwise.


'The Eye'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Gore, scary ghosts, adult themes

Lee Sin-Je...Mun

Lawrence Chou...Wah

Chutcha Rujinanon...Ling

Candy Lo...Mun's sister

Pierre Png...Eke

A Palm Pictures release. Directors Oxide and Danny Pang. Writers Jojo Hui, Oxide and Danny Pang. Producers Lawrence Cheng, Peter Ho-Sun Chan. Original score Orange Music. Costume designers Jittima Kongsri, Stephanie Wong. Art directors Kritapas Suttinet, Simon So. Director of photography Decha Srimantra. Editors Oxide and Danny Pang. In Cantonese and Thai with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

Exclusively at Landmark's Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., (310) 478-6379.

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