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Site for Sore Eyes: Mun (Lee Sin-je) experiences unwelcome visions after a cornea transplant in 'The Eye.'

Glimpse

'The Eye' inflicts goose bumps

By Richard von Busack

THE SENSE OF Asian diaspora in The Eye fits uncannily the dislocation essential to any serious horror film--directors Oxide and Danny Pang are Thai brothers who moved to Hong Kong; their star, Lee Sin-je, is a Malaysian actress playing Mun, a wayward immigrant who may be moving on to Vancouver. Horror is bolstered by poignancy, reflected in Mun's gentle face as the lady in peril, but also in Thailand itself as seen from a train window, bypassing small shops selling snacks and kites.

The Eye's mood of exile is strong. At night, Mun's room makes a ghostly shift, changing into another room. Even Mun's relatives are changing. There are hints that Mun's sister, a stewardess who's never really in the picture, has gone Western. She's brusque and unsympathetic, even when Mun is in pain from an operation. There's very little sense of home, and nothing protects Mun from an attack by the uncanny.

On the whole, the Pangs have done an effective take on The Hands of Orlac, the much-filmed Maurice Renard novel of 1920 about the idea that a transplanted body part might have a life of its own. Mun, blind from birth, receives a donated pair of corneas. In the hospital, Mun's comforted by the little girl in the bed next to her--Yingying (Yut Lai So), a severely ill child. The operation is a success, but Mun is disturbed by visions of the dead, who approach, complaining of cold and hunger; and the ghost of Yingying is only one of them.

The Pang's staging of these hauntings is expert--the computer animation is briskly illustrative instead of showy as it was in The Haunting. The Pangs are as skillful as Brian De Palma in building an excruciating situation through rhythm and editing. One sequence is brilliant: A ghost rides an elevator that can never seem to get to its floor, facing the corner like a punished kindergartner. Mun's terror increases as the spirit drifts toward her, a few inches off the ground, slowly turning to reveal its severely disfigured face. Mun lunches at a noodle shop where a starving mother and child specter walk by outside. The mother ghost leans in to give the window of the restaurant a lolling, wolfish lick.

It's naturally a disappointment when we get a too-rational explanation of these horrors. Mun's seeing dead people is traced back to the donated corneas, but then her powers seem to change from being a necromancer to a Cassandra, and a reincarnated Cassandra at that. The film leads to a big gas-explosion finale; here the Pang's previously economical computer animation is finally strained. The cliché of horror films having first a false peaceful ending, then a real big one, needs a burial with a stake through its heart. Otherwise, The Eye is a genuinely shivery picture--one of the few really frightening movies this year.


The Eye (Unrated; 98 min.), directed by Oxide and Danny Pang, written by Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui and Oxide and Danny Pang, photographed by Decha Srimantra and starring Lee Sin-je and Yut Lai So, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.


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From the June 12-18, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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