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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 20, 2003

Ghostly visions shiver the spine in Asian film

By Manohla Dargis
Los Angeles Times

Lee Sin-Je is Mun, a young woman who regains her sight after a cornea transplant and begins to see dead people. This Asian film is subtitled in English and is already headed for a Hollywood remake.

Palm Pictures

'The Eye'

Unrated; gore, scary ghost, adult themes

In Cantonese and Thai with English subtitles

98 minutes

In the agreeably spooky horror movie "The Eye," a beautiful young woman discovers that seeing isn't just believing, it's 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. Later, 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 the hallway at her 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. 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, while Mun's teacher looks on, befuddled and unaware.

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 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, 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, 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.