She sees dead people.
In revealing that fact about the heroine of “The Eye,” the Hong Kong supernatural thriller from the twin-brother team of Danny and Oxide Pang, one is hardly guilty of a spoiler; the fact is revealed very early in the running-time, not held to the end as in “The Sixth Sense.” (Oops.) The question the picture poses isn’t so much what’s happening, but how and why. Unfortunately, in answering those queries it tries too hard to concoct a solution that will work within the admittedly liberal confines of the genre while providing a sufficient quota of chills. The result is a picture which, like the Pangs’ debut “Bangkok Dangerous,” has plenty of style but gets weighed down by contrivances in plotting.
“The Eye” opens with winsome Mann (Lee Sin-Je), blind since the age of two, recuperating after a cornea transplant. The operation is a success, but a problem quickly arises: in addition to the “real” world, Mann also glimpses other figures, some of them shadowy and others quite clear, who turn out to be either ghosts or grim reapers accompanying the recently-deceased to their fates. The poor girl, obviously distraught about this, seeks help from a therapist named Wah (Lawrence Chou) who happens to be the nephew of her doctor. Though he initially believes the affliction is psychological, eventually he becomes convinced that it’s supernatural (and, at the same time, falls in love with the girl). When Mann is confronted by the reflection of another woman staring back at her from a mirror and begins having visions of unfamiliar places and events, Wah concludes that she’s seeing what the cornea donor did, and the pair travel to Thailand to find who the dead woman was. She turns out to have been a sort of local Cassandra whose demise hasn’t yet been emotionally resolved. But even after liberating the troubled spirit, Mann still possesses the inherited power, which comes into play in an apocalyptic finale that suggests that Mann’s cure might be worse than her disease.
The premise of “The Eye” isn’t new–the notion of transplant recipients being tormented by the past lives of their donors is hardly fresh–but as they showed in “Bangkok,” which was basically just a twist on the typical Hong Kong soulful hit-man genre, the Pangs are adept at infusing some life into old cliches. Though it’s never genuinely frightening, the picture does sporadically generate a spooky atmosphere, and some of its images are striking. (It’s hardly surprising that English remake rights have already been snapped up in hopes of repeating the success of “The Ring,” similarly based on an eastern original.) On the other hand, much of the script seems like padding. A subplot about Mann’s role in an orchestra of the blind goes nowhere, and a narrative thread involving a young hospital patient who’s undergoing a series of brain operations has an outcome that’s all too preordained. There’s also a long episode, about a young boy who commits suicide when his parents refuse to believe that he’s lost his report card, that remains opaque; there’s a suggestion that Mann’s mother was somehow involved in the document’s disappearance, but that’s never clarified. Most of the acting is no more than workmanlike, either. Lee evinces a nice sense of vulnerability, but Chou, while likable, is hardly convincing as a psychotherapist, looking to be about sixteen years old. No one else makes much of an impression apart from little Chutcha Rujinanon, who comes on very strong as the sick little girl, Ying Ying.
This sophomore effort makes it clear that the Pangs have an eye, so to speak, for unnerving visuals. It’s a pity that they’re not quite so adept in script construction and plotting.