Review © Mandi Apple, 2002

Directed by the Pang Brothers, 2002, 98 min. starring Lee Sin-je, Lawrence Chou, Candy Lo, Chutcha Rujinanon, Edmund Chen, Pierre Png, Yut Lai So, Yin Ping Ko and Wilson Yip.

Fresh from Hong Kong this year comes a surprise new horror hit, The Eye (aka Jian gui), and somewhat unsurprisingly enough, the moment that it was released, a remake was allegedly optioned by Tom Cruise’s production company, which means you’ll probably be hearing a lot more about this classy HK film very soon ;-)

Directed by the identical-twin Pang brothers, Oxide and Danny Pang, for the first time working as a team, The Eye gives an innovative new look (no pun intended) to the classic ghost story. Compared favourably against such Hollywood drivel as The Sixth Sense and The Others, The Eye works in a similar kind of vein but in a deeper, more stylish and infinitely more affecting way, mainly because the film actually has a human story at the heart of it, and a very sad and real one, at that.

Granted, the movie’s main theme concerns a young woman, Wong Kar Mun (played beautifully by the lovely Lee Sin-je, in a moving and understated performance), who ‘sees ghosts’ in almost the same way as The Sixth Sense, which originally made me nervous, wondering if this film would be a third-rate rip-off of a tenth-rate flick. Luckily, I was proved very wrong: the ghost angle is merely one theme among many, which gives the film a great richness of story and emotional depth; you can really sympathise with the characters, thanks to a great script and quality acting.

With one eye (still no pun intended) fixed on the contemporary horror film scene in Japan, The Eye displays the same kind of atmosphere as Nakata Hideo’s Dark Water/Honogurai no mizu soko kara, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo/Pulse, and of course, Ring. However, the cultural references are defiantly Chinese, thereby bringing the HK horror-scene bang up to date. Let’s hope that The Eye incites a New Wave of Hong Kong filmmaking to rival the Japanese scene.


‘What if the reflection you see in the mirror is not your own?’

Essentially, the plot of The Eye is a relatively simple one. A young woman named Wong Kar Mun (Lee Sin-je), who has been blind since birth, is due to receive a corneal transplant which should completely restore her sight. Whilst waiting in hospital before surgery, Mun meets a sweet little girl called Ying Ying (Yut Lai So), who has a brain tumour and is awaiting surgery whilst undergoing chemotherapy, and the two become very close friends, Ying Ying constantly referring to Mun as ‘sister’. Ying Ying tells Mun that when her sight is recovered, she will take Mun out to see the world, as “… it’s so beautiful out there”. Mun herself doesn’t have much in the way of family; just her grandmother (played by Yin Ping Ko) and her air-stewardess sister Yee (Candy Lo), as her parents divorced when she was a little girl and her grandmother had to raise both Mun and Yee.

The operation, carried out by a top eye surgeon, Dr C.T. Lo (Edmund Chen), appears to be a total success at first: although the light hurts her eyes to begin with, and she has 100 degrees of near-sightedness, Mun can finally see for the first time in her life. However, on the first night after the surgery, she has a weird experience: she hears a strange groaning sound coming from across the ward. The old lady who occupies the bed opposite her is making the odd noises, saying “… I’m freezing…” Of course, with her significantly diminished vision, Mun is totally confused as to what’s going on… until the old lady disappears and reappears with unnatural speed behind her, scaring her. Mun watches in fear as a mysterious black figure leads the old lady out down the hospital corridor, and the pair of them pass right through the double door at the end.

When Mun wakes up the next morning, she sees the hospital porters removing the old lady’s corpse from the ward, covered by a sheet. She asks the nurses about her strange experience of the night before, telling them that the old lady had had a visitor in the night, to which the nurses reply that no visitors are allowed in the wards after dark.

The next day, Mun is released from the hospital, promising to come back and visit Ying Ying when she has her brain surgery. However, Mun is starting to get a strange feeling about her newly-restored vision; this is compounded when she begins to see and hear all kinds of odd characters and sounds, who nobody else appears to see or hear. It’s not until her first night out of hospital, staying in her grandmother’s apartment, that Mun’s grandmother realises that something is clearly not right, when Mun answers the front door to a little boy who hides his face under his cap, and asks her, “Have you seen my report card?”. She answers that she hasn’t seen it anywhere, and calls out to her grandmother, telling her about the little boy asking for his report card. However, her grandmother is shocked by this, telling her that the boy is teasing her… and when Mun looks around, the boy has disappeared.

So she goes up the corridor to look for him, and sees a door with two mourning-lanterns displayed above it… and underneath, she finds the boy, who asks about the report card again, and tells her he’s hungry… but the disturbing thing about this is that the boy is eating the candles which have been left outside by the mourners in the house as an death-offering. (Traditionally it’s thought that the dead are supposed to feed on their relatives’ offerings of incense and candles.)

As for Mun’s grandmother, she seems as if she’s been expecting such events to take place: she summons a Taoist exorcist (played by Wilson Yip), not only to speak to the family in the house with the mourning-lanterns outside but to try to dispel whatever spirit or demon is possessing Mun’s mind. When the exorcist visits the family, he discovers that their young son has recently committed suicide because he lost his report card and didn’t want to get in trouble. He tells the grieving parents that the ghosts of people who die suddenly or commit suicide are condemned to keep on repeating their last actions in a grim loop… something which is borne out when the little boy keeps on appearing to Mun.

Yet Mun, although she partially realises what’s happening to her, only knows that there is something wrong with her eyes. After seeing two ‘hungry ghosts’ in a café, the waitress there confirms her fears, by telling her that other psychically sensitive people can also see these two ghosts, and that many businesses in the area have shut down as a result. So in total desperation, Mun goes to see Dr. Wah Lo (Lawrence Chou), the psychotherapist (and nephew of the Dr. C.T. Lo who performed Mun’s transplant) who’s been assigned to her for rehabilitation purposes, with her completely unbelievable story about seeing ghosts, mainly to beg him to reverse the operation.

Even though he doesn’t believe her at first, he has more than just doctor-patient feelings for her, and he can see how distraught and terrified she is. So he asks his uncle to disclose the donor records, which he absolutely refuses to do… until Mun proves to both of them that her story really is true, at which point Dr Lo releases the records to his nephew. Mun’s cornea donor was a young Thai woman named Ling, and Dr Wah Lo and Mun try to track down Ling’s family so they can get some answers as to what’s happening to her… but is there any way they can prevent Mun from Ling’s terrible and tragic fate?

The best thing IMHO about The Eye is that everything works together so effectively: from reading the synopsis alone, you might think that it’s a bog-standard old-style ghost flick, but you’d be wrong. You’d have to have a heart of pure stone if you don’t feel sorry for Mun, released from a difficult life of total darkness into a new world of horror and dread; and the same goes for Ling and Ying Ying, with their own terrible and tragic stories. The actresses concerned play these parts with such simple emotionality (no Hollywood raving hysterics though; tenderness, restraint and exhaustion are the order of the day here) that I’ve heard of some people bursting into tears whilst watching the film – something you don’t generally tend to do while watching your average horror movie.

The cinematography really allows you to get drawn into the story, with beautiful, chilling imagery, great locations (the Thailand scenes are particularly awesome) and out-and-out shocks – even I, as a totally desensitised, lifelong horror-film freak, felt a chill when Alex Apple pointed out the creepy face reflected in the window in the train scene. If you enjoy updated modern ghost tales with a great story behind them, you’ll love The Eye.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 9/10
Sex: 0/10
Violence: 2/10
Explosions: whooomph!/10
Ghost Count: about 2 or 3 thousand
Chill Factor: 9/10
Hankie Factor: pretty high
Litres of tomato ketchup: 1. Must have bought charcoal in bulk, though
***Highly Recommended!***

The Eye Wallpaper

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2002

Snowblood Apple Filmographies:
Oxide Pang Chun
Danny Pang
Lee Sin-je
Lawrence Chou
Candy Lo
Edmund Chen
Pierre Png

Links - The great-looking official movie site, full of goodies such as e-cards to send to people you hate, trailers to download, and a BBS - looks like Tartan might be going to release The Eye in the UK. Hooray! - great review at LoveHKFilm - and another one at KFC Cinema, with lots of decent pics too - get yer lovely Quicktime trailers 'ere! - review in Spanish only - another review, this time in English

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