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THE EYE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Lee Sin-Je, Lawrence Chou
Directors:  The Pang Brothers
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Palm Pictures/Lions Gate
Features:  See Review
Length:  98 Minutes
Release Date:  October 21, 2003

Film ***

The Eye is a striking piece of modern horror, with a brilliant premise and an execution style that isnít quite equal to it.  But close.

The concept is that of a young woman named Mun (Sin-Je) who, after being blind most of her life, receives a cornea transplant operation to restore her sight.  But she gets more than she bargained for when her returned eyesight also allows her to see disembodied spirits and the very shadow of death stalking those around her who are about to become the dearly departed.

The world around her becomes a terrifying place, for her and for us, because nothing is ever quite what it seems.  Surprises are around every corner, and they arenít always pleasant.  For Mun, her only hope is to go to her handsome young doctor Cho (Chou), try to learn the identity of her cornea donor, and trace the mystery back to its roots.

I donít want to tread too far into plot details, because half of the fun of the movie is the mystery (the other half would be the terror).  I will say that unlike some horror films, the mystery does unwind in a satisfactory manner, and that the movieís climactic piece is one of the most chilling Iíve encountered in a while.

Co-written and directed by the Pang Brothers, who are becoming something of an institution in Asia, this is a picture with plenty of imagination to drive it, but is unfortunately held back from being truly classic by relying on convention as a crutch.  The most overused element in horror is what I call the boom-scare, which is simply a sudden loud noise, maybe or maybe not accompanied by a quick bit of action, that startles instead of scares.  Itís a cheap and tiresome gimmick normally utilized in pictures without a lot of real fright power, but sadly, itís used frequently and needlessly here.  It tried my patience just a tad.

But thankfully, this picture relies on more than just sudden loud surprises to keep its audience unnerved.  A few brilliant sequences depicting the world through Munís eyes are the disturbing stuff of nightmares, and pretty young Lee Sin-Je makes for a formidable protagonist.  We feel for her helplessness; thereís not a lot that can be done when the world becomes a terrifying place in one individualís eyes.

A little more faith in the subject matter and a little less unneeded spice might have made The Eye a landmark horror film.  As it stands, itís a very good, mostly effective, but flawed oneÖsadly flawed, because what was wrong was not inherent in the film, its story or its structure, merely the extracurricular activities.

Video ***

This is not a bad anamorphic transfer at all, considering how much of the picture is presented in darkened settings.  There is a little unavoidable softness and slight lack of detail from time to time, but on the flip side, not a lot of grain usually associated with low light high contrast film stock.  Colors are often deliberately muted as a stylistic choice, but nothing comes across as transfer error.  For the most part, this DVD seems to serve the creatorsí visions nicely.

Audio ***

The 5.1 audio is also strong, with dynamic range coming mostly from the aforementioned boom-scares.  A little background ambience appears from time to time in the rear channels, while the subwoofer mostly adds impact to the heavy sounds and startling effects.  Dialogue is in Cantonese and Thai, so I couldnít decisively judge the clarity, but nothing seemed out of sorts.

Features **

There is a making-of featurette (in Chinese with English subtitles) that talks with cast and crew and discusses some of the Pang Brothersí inspirations for the story.  In addition, thereís a trailer, a TV spot, previews for other titles and weblinks.

Summary:

The Eye is effective enough to merit a recommendationÖitís just too bad that the unnecessary attempts at weaving clichťd technique into an otherwise striking and compelling horror tale weakened it just enough to keep it from being truly great.