Movies have always been keen to visualize the gorier details of ocular trauma, from Un Chien Andalou's oozing eyeball to Tom Cruise in hot pursuit of his runaway peepers in Minority Report. The new film from twin brothers Danny and Oxide Pang—not exactly visionaries, though they do care an awful lot about how things look—stuffs the metaphor-rich themes of sight and sightlessness into the most trashily literal offshoot of the possession genre: transplant horror. Like the hand in The Hand and the brains in Brainwaves and The Brain That Wouldn't Die (not to mention the self-explanatory result of The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant), the eye in The Eye has—to use a suitably biology-defying clich—a mind of its own.
Blind twentyish heroine Mun (Lee Sin-je) undergoes a cornea graft and finds that she's not only recovered a fifth sense but somehow gained a sixth. In addition to the stock assortment of unhappily departed, she sees—and can communicate with—those on the brink of expiration as they're escorted away by Death (who's traded in his Bergman-era monastic hoodie for a slimming black turtleneck). Doting psychotherapist in tow, Mun eventually journeys from Hong Kong to Bangkok, where she tries to placate the restive spirit of her donor, only to assume the tragic burden of the dead girl's witchy powers.
Given that The Eye plays out without so much as a single new idea or real surprise, it's a testament to the Pangs' knack for composition and editing—or Orange Music's merciless Psycho-tronic score—that the movie goes boo as effectively as it does. (The brothers have a sequel in the works and Tom Cruise's production company plans a remake.) The most memorable scenes literalize the Sam Fuller title Shock Corridor, Mun peering into the fluorescent haze of a long hallway (the unfocused camera adopts her still smudgy p.o.v.), then—a jolting intrusion into the frame. As in their previous, rather more kinetic Bangkok Dangerous, the Pangs faithfully transcribe their influences (this time, mainly B movie and J horror) but lack a sure grasp of tonal coherence; the queasy irony of Kitano/Woo sentimentality in particular eludes them. Intentionally or not, Mun's supernatural dilemma and the punitive logic of its resolution suggest a fortune-cookie philosophy that applies equally to the Pangs' glossy-catalog mimicry: a new way of seeing is not always a good thing.
The Eye (Jian gui) was directed by the Pang brothers; written by the Pang brothers and Jo Jo Hui; and stars Lee Sin-je, Lawrence Chou and Chutcha Rujinanon. Now playing at Edwards University, Irvine.