Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 3:07 pm 
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The Pang brothers get a false rep...

The Pang brothers' 1999 "Bangkok Dangerous" was an intriguing, offbeat, somewhat post-Wong Kar Wai film about a sensitive deaf mute hit man. I loved the way the young hero relived his meetings with his new girlfriend entirely by gesture, back in his lonely bed. This new Pang brothers story about a woman whose corneal transplant causes her to become as clairvoyant as the corneas' previous owner, with wrenching results, leading up to an extraordinary disaster that she cannot prevent, certainly shows an offbeat imagination on the part of this part Taiwan, part Thai team. They seek to work in a popular vein, but with fresh twists.

In London "The Eye" was touted as a stunning horror film, and people seem to see it that way. It is rather horror, if horror at all, in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe, horror as horribly heightened sensitivities, of being trapped in a painful consciousness, of living on the edge of neurasthenia. Most of what's going on is interior (much as the "Bangkok Dangerous" hit man's world was interior because of his inability to hear or speak). Here, the young woman who gets the transplant has been blind since childhood, so she, like the hit man, has been cut off from the rest of the world. When she gets the transplant from the dead woman who foresaw disasters and begins to see new ones herself, it's as if the disability of "Bangkok Dangerous" has been grafted onto M. Night Shyamalan's "Sixth Sense." There is a lot of film expended to show what's going on inside the young woman's head. Is this a skillful use of special effects, or mere clumsiness? You be the judge. "Bangkok Dangerous" didn't require more than a few flashbacks. We could experience what it was like to be the hit man just by watching him, and by an altered sound track, as in the clever recent French film, "Sur mes lèvres" ("Read My Lips") by Jacques Audiard.

In some ways "The Eye" is technically sophisticated, but the premise is hokey, and the young actors are rather too bland. The young woman is generic. Her doctor is a cute young man, chosen not for charisma or believability but as a good romantic partner her when circumstances increasingly throw them together. It is hard to believe that he is old enough to perform eye surgery, but he certainly cares for his patient. If only doctors "followed up" to this extent in real life, the lovelorn among us would all be off to our local ophthalmology clinic.

The blending of Chinese and Thai elements in this UK/Honking/Singapore/Thailand film is also confusing in "The Eye," at least for all those of us who are not Asian polymaths. Why is the action set in Thailand but with everybody speaking in Chinese? If one is interested in character and setting and not just generic thrills, as in a video game, these things matter.

However, the final sequence of the unavoidable disaster is truly surreal and hellish. Too bad the preceding events are so sleep-inducing. It is to be hoped that the Pang brothers will hit their stride again and not be seduced by the claims of various viewers and critics that they are good at horror. This is neither good, nor a horror film. For something really extraordinary, not to say unforgettable, in this vein, see Kiyoshi Kurasawa's "Kyua," or "Cure" (1997), which cunningly and unforgettably blends elements of neurosthenia and horror with mysterious powers and serial killing. Bingo!

November 1, 2002

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