Friday, 2 September 2011

Film Review - Gin Gwai (The Eye)

tl;dr Whilst not exactly a horror film, it offers up more than a few scares and great big dollop of pathos. Well shot, well acted; well worth checking out.

The Eye is a pan-asian horror movie, a Singapore-Hong Kong co-production, shot in Hong Kong and Thailand and with a cast from most corners of East Asia. It comes off of the back of a few asian/asian influenced horrors, so at this point I feel like I'm beginning to kind of get into the rhythm of the things and have fairly strong expectations. Thus, The Eyes surprised me: it's not a ghost story like many of these other asian horror affairs, and more a ghost story in the vein of The Sixth Sense.

Our protagonist, Mun, is blind, but we meet her as she is undergoing a cornea transplant. Everything seems to go according to plan and she begins to regain her sight. She starts seeing odd things, however, like unexplained figures and a man who takes away an old woman who turns up dead. She can see ghosts, and with the help of a young doctor she looks to unravel what is going on.

I've noted before that it can often be difficult to tell how god the acting is in a foreign language film, due to culture norms relating to emotion and general unfamiliarity with certain ethnic groups. This film, however, puts lie to that theory, as the cast is terrific throughout, selling the weird circumstances and emotional struggles nicely. Mun has very little dialogue, but she is nonethless able to communicate her thoughts and fears without being unsubtle.

The films begins on rather an unusual note, for, as creepy as the overly-long title sequence is, there's not much in here recogniseable as outright horror at first. A few scenes with slightly creepy overtones, sure, but the movies spends a lot of time building up the character and looking at her recovery. For awhile the film seems content to look at the way she deals with this new emerging world of the physical, and her psychological attempts to deal with that. This grounds the film not in the supernatural nor the world of jump scares, but rather in the psychological journey of the main character. To sell this as a horror, pure and straight, is very much a mistake. The horror is here to facilitate the growth of the characters, and although you have to be a horror fan to some extent to watch and enjoy it, it's perhaps inaccurate to call it a horror.

I really liked the directing, which has a very distinct and stylish flavour without ever coming close to indulgence. The direction is a storytelling tool, and in this movie it's used to maximum effect. It's a well put together piece, with production values that outstrip many in Hollywood.

There are a few twists to the tale that, whilst simple, certainly are effective. It's not exactly unpredictable, but it is nonetheless rewarding. The Eye is a polished and clever film, which nonetheless retains a simplicity that keeps any of it's conflicting ideas in balance. It's a film about redemption and facing up to fear, and never makes the jump scare or the otherly creepiness the point. Well worth giving a go.

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