Three (2002)

Three (Saam Gaang, 2002)This anthology of Asian horror stories (known as Saam Gaang in the East) was retitled THREE EXTREMES II for U.S. home video, which is doubly misleading: THREE precedes 2004’s THREE EXTREMES by two years, and it is far less extreme in terms of violence and perversity, instead offering moderately interesting variations on the traditional tropes of Asian horror films as established in 1998’s RING. Typical of anthologies, the results are uneven, with two decent episodes and one dud. Fans of the formula, who were put off by THREE EXTREMES, will find THREE closer to their hearts, and at the very least, it represents a considerable improvement upon the other relatively well known Asian Anthology, BANGKOK HAUNTED (2001).
There is no linking device or thematic connection between the three episodes, each of which was made by a completely different team: one from South Korea, one from Thailand, and one from China.
First up is “Memories,” from South Korean writer-director Kim Ji-woon, who would go on to wow critics with his subsequent TALE OF TWO SISTERS (Janghwa Hongryeon, 2003). “Memories” utilizes similar strategies, mixing the supernatural with the psychological. The story features a husband suffering from visions of his missing wife (who appears to him as the traditional Asian ghost girl, with long black hair obscuring his face); his psychiatrist suggests the visions are sympoms of the husband’s repressed memories about why his wife left him. Meanwhile, the wife awakens on a distant street, apparently suffering from amnesia, and struggles to find her way back home.

Kim Ji-woon's episode "Memories"
Kim Ji-woon's episode "Memories"

The greatest strength of “Memories” is its cool, sharp visuals. K-Horror films (as opposed to their J-Horror counterpart) tend to be more colorful, capturing the modern world in glistening precise images that make the intrusion of the horror all the more uncanny. Kim Ji-woon’s use of this approach pays off here, holding attention even if the story turns out to be relatively simple. Intercutting the two narrative threads maintains an aura of mystery, which is enhanced by some suggestive and possibly ironic hints about what is happening (the episode is set in a new housing development that claims to be a place where dreams come true). Unfortunately, the resolution is neither particularly astounding nor comletely satisfying.

Far more disappointing is THREE’s Thai episode “The Wheel,” a period piece set in a small village where a puppet master dies. Opening narration informs us that these puppets are imbued with the spirit of their creator, who is the only one who may own them; anyone else will fall under the curse. Needless to say, someone lays claims to the puppets, and the curse begins to works its evil magic – not that you will care.
For a short subject, “The Wheel” is amazingly listless; you would think the limited running time would force a certain amount of narrative comprehsion, but no, the story wanders from character to character, never settling on a central protagonist or clarifying why we should worry about what happens to any of them. Adding insult to injury, there is an “It was only a premonition” twist ending, suggesting that a character has seen the future that will result from taking the puppets – and then he goes ahead and ignores the warning. Smart move, moron!
THREE improves considerably with its final episode, “Going Home” directed by Peter Chan (who produced the Pang Brothers’ THE EYE and THE EYE 2). The story follows a single cop named Wai and his son, who move into a nearly deserted apartment building, with only one neighbor. Wai’s son is disturbed by the mysterious appearance of a little girl, along with strange phenomena, such as all the doors of the vacant apartments being inexplicably open. When Wai’s son disappears, the cop questions the neighbor, Yu, stumbling upon an extremely strange situation: Yu has preserved the body of his dead wife, Hai’er, in the hope that daily regimen of Chinese medicine (as opposed to Western medicine) will resurrect her.

Yu's devotion to his dead wife earns sympathy.
Yu's devotion to his dead wife earns sympathy.

Although it’s story is simple, “Going Home” is relatively sophisticated. Yu appears at first to be a lunatic villain, who knocks out Wai and ties him up in order to avoid having his secret revealed. But as time goes by, we begin to see his sympathetic side, as he describes the devotion he has showered on his wife for the last three years (the resurrection process is not a fast one). By the time Wai’s cop friends come looking for him, we no longer want to see Yu come to a bad end.
As engrossing as it is, “Going Home” suffers from some obvious flaws. The mysterious little girl seems shoe-horned into the film in order to justify including this episode in an anthology of ghost stories. She is just a plot device, luring Wai’s son away so that Wai will have a motivation to question his neighbor and stumble upon his secret. Once Wai has been detained by Yu, the missing son is virtually forgotten (except for one or two brief moments of lip service) as the focus shifts to Yu.
[SPOILER ALERT] The surprise ending is also slightly muddled: We are led to believe that Yu’s wife previously resurrected him, using the same Chinese medicine that he is now using on her. Why, then, does his wife does not return fully to life? Are we to believe that a police autopsy killed her upon the point of resurrection? But why would a doctor perform an autopsy  whose twitching fingers and flickering eyelids are already displaying signs of life? [END SPOILERS].
The nagging questions raised by the twist ending are not enough to ruin the overall impact of “Going Home,” but they do suggest that the story might have benefitted from a more fully thought-out treatment that did not involve the irrelevant supernatural elements.
At 140 minutes, THREE outstays its welcome, and  the episodes do not enhance each other in a way that would tie the three parts into a satisfying whole. Fortuntately, this disjointed nature makes it easy enough to view the episodes one at a time, fast-forwarding through (or skipping entirely) “The Wheel.” Both “Memories” and “Going Home” offer something of interest to fans of Asian horror; although each uses the cliches of the genre, neither one is simply a genre piece. Instead, they display little sparks of original vision that make THREE interesting if not esseential viewing.
THREE (Saam Gaang, a.k.a. “Three Extremes 2,” 2002).

  • “Memories” written and directed by Kim Ji-Woon. Cast: Kim Hye-su , Jeong Bo-seok, Choi Jeong-won, Jang Jung-Won, Sung-Keun Jee.
  • “The Wheel” directed by Nonzee Nimibutr. Written by Nitas Singhamat from a story by Ek Lemchuen and Nonzee Nimibutr. Cast: Suwinit Panjamawat, Kanyavae Chatiawaipreacha, Pornchai Chuvanon, Anusak Intasorn, Pattama Jangjarut.
  • “Going Home” directed by Peter Chan. Written by Matt Chowand Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui from a story by Teddy Chan and Chao Bin Su. Cast: Leon Lai, Eric Tsang, Eugenia Yuan, Ting-Fung Li, Tsz-Wing Lau.

Bangkok Haunted (2001) DVD review

click to purchase
click to purchase

This 2001 trio of tales from Thailand is one of the lesser ghostly emanations to materialize in the funeral wake of RING, the film that launched a decade’s worth of Asian horror films, not to mention numerous Americanized remakes. Directed by Pisut Praesangeam and Oxide Pang (one half of the Pang Brothers, who made 2002’s THE EYE), BANGKOK HAUNTED features plenty of flashy technique but little real style; the usual spooky notes are played with reasonable competence, but they never tie together into a coherent or memorable composition.
There is a slightly slap-dash feel to the production, as if it were thrown together without being fully thought through. Narrative clarity is not always a priority: Praesangeam’s screenplay, abetted by confusing cross-cutting, often leaves the viewer wondering exactly what is happening. The confusion begins immediately: the film begins its first episode without preamble or wrap-around device; only after “Legend of the Drum” has concluded do we see that we are listening to three Thai women trading ghost stories in a coffee shop.
Why wait till now to reveal the framing device? Don’t bother asking because you won’t get an explanation. In fact, the dialogue among the three female friends serves less to unite the three stories than to offer apologies for their weaknesses, as the women criticize each other for not knowing how to tell a good story. Sadly, the criticism is all too justified.
“Legend of the Drum” involves a young woman investigating an artifact with a haunted history, involving the disappearance of a beautiful woman and the disfigured man who adored her – until she spurned him for a more handsome rival. Although interesting, the story intercuts past and present to occasionally confusing effect, as the drum’s current owner feels the spiritual fall-out of the tragic tale associated with the object. The ending suggests reincarnation as the explanation linking past and present, with a surprise finish that is only slightly scary and not particularly satisfying (as the teller’s two friends will complain, in the wrap-around segment).
Part Two is “Corpse Oil,” about a woman whose neighbor offers her a potion guaranteed to stir the passion of any man she sets her eyes on. The first problem with the story is that the woman in question is a smokin’ hot babe who obviously doesn’t need any potions to work magic on men (early on, she is seen rubbing her body against a stranger on a crowded boat ride, which should have been more than enough to get his attention). The second problem is, as you can probably guess, that potions of this kind come with a dark secret and/or a terrible price. And if you can’t figure out the secret, then you’ve simply haven’t read the title of the episode. Basically, this story is less about horror than about club-hopping and one-night stands, with the occasional pale-faced mystery girl showing up to creepy if confusing effect (presumably the ghost of the corpse who provided the titular “oil”).
“Revenge,” the final tale – and the only one directed by Pang – breaks with its predecessors by telling a story fousing on a cop rather than one of the three women. A young policeman investigates a mysterious death that his superior has deemed a suicide. The investigation is not particularly scintillating, and the pace is lethargic (fast-forwarding at double speed improves things considerably). There is a decent LEAVE HER TO HEAVE-type twist ending, which involves a reasonably clever method for confusing the homicide-suicide issue, but the supposedly wrenching impact of the final revelations packs no emotional punch; it’s just an arbitrary twist designed to offer a surprise to an otherwise flat story. The supernatural elements are almost nil, just the occasional hint of a ghostly presence following the detective; the ghost seems shoe-horned into the script in order to justify including this story in an anthology containing the word “haunted” in the title.
The final segment offers yet another spooky twist, but rather than “Oh my god!” you’re reaction is likely to be “What’s the point?” The film ends on a nice, creepy image, but it comes so far out of left field that the impact is minimal, and you wish the filmmakers had saved it for another film, where it might actually fit. 
Bangkok Haunted (2001)At least on DVD, BANGKOK HAUNTED tends to look dark and murky throughout. The modern setting is sheathed in noir stylings that make the intrusion of supernatural elements more credible, but there is a certain monotony to the approach, which even the presence of two different directors cannot overcome. The ghostly manifestations are reasonably well realized, and the film does offer its share of shuddery moments. The problem is that, spread over a two-hour-plus running time, these are not nearly enough to compensate for the slack pacing and uninvolving narratives.
The Region 1 DVD from Unit World Movie Inc offers the original Thai audio, with options for English or Chinese subtitles. The Chapter Stops sub-menu offers only three chapters, one for each episode, even though the the film is actually divided into 12 chapters (you can advance to the others manually by using your remote).
There is also a “Special Feature,” a short promotional film that begins like an extended trailer before shifting into pseudo-documentary mode,  claiming that BANGKOK HAUNTED intends to offer an answer to the mystery of whether life-after-death exists. (At least, I think that’s what it’s saying – the subtitles are embarrassingly non-grammatical.) Finally, the featurette shifts toward traditional EPK mode, with the filmmakers discussing the the film and describing their attempt to forge a new approach to depicting the supernatural on screen.
Ultimately, BANGKOK HAUNTED is for hardcore fans who have seen all the great examples of the last decade’s worth of great Asian horror films and are still yearning for more. Undemanding fans of the form may be mildly entertained; everyone else will wish they had watched RINGU or THE EYE again.
BANGKOK HAUNTED (2001). Directed by Pisut Praesangeam and Oxide Pang. Written by Pisut Praesangeam. Cast: Pimsiree Pimsee, Pramote Seangsorn, Dawan Singha-Wee, Kalyanut Sirboonreung, Pete Thong-Jeur.

This article has been expanded and clarified since initial publication.

Alone – Fant-Asia Horror Film Review

ALONE is an Asian import – not from the usual suspects Japan or Korea, but Thailand (technically, the film is partly set in Korea, but it is a Thai production). Although not a masterpiece, it is an intriguing tale told in a suitably spooky manner, offering evidence that, nearly a decade after the J-Horror wave launched with RING, there is still some life in supernatural horror movies from the Orient.

Pim is a married woman living in Korea, who returns to Thailand after her mother has a stroke. Home is definitely not where the heart is, however; Pim is haunted – either psychologically or literally – by the ghost of her deceased conjoined twin, who apparently resents Pim’s happy life alone, after the two of them had sworn to stay together forever.

The typical supernatural scares are executed with all effectiveness you could desire, but ALONE is essentially a study of Pim’s psychological deterioration. The plotting is slow (it takes forever for flashbacks to reveal things we have already guessed, such as that Pim insisted on being surgically separated from her twin in order to get married); fortunately, the script pulls off a great surprise twist near the end that not only casts more light on the proceedings but also helps make sense out of why Pim is so guilt-ridden. If one were to pick a point of comparison, the closest predecessor would be A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (which also played the game of “is the haunting real or imagined), but ALONE is much less cryptic in its storytelling.

If ALONE suffers from any obvious flaw, it is one fairly typical of ghost and/or haunted house movies: the lead character trues to go about her daily life, which is interrupted by the intrusion of the supernatural; consequently, the story has little forward momentum, relying on the ghostly manifestations to liven things up, until the characters are finally forced to take action in the last act. For those patient enough to sit through the protracted set-up, the pay-off is worthwhile.
Unfortunately, ALONE is not currently available in the U.S.
ALONE (Faet, 2007). Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun &
Parkpoom Wongpoom. Screenplay by Aummaraporn Phandintong,
Banjong Pisanthanakun, Sopon Sukdapisit (as Sophon Sakdaphisit),
Parkpoom Wongpoom. Cast:
Marsha Wattanapanich … Pim / Ploy
Vittaya Wasukraipaisan … Vee (as Withaya Wasukraipaisan)
Ratchanoo Bunchootwong … Pim and Ploy’s Mother (as Ruchanu Boonchooduang)
Hatairat Egereff … Pim – age 15
Rutairat Egereff … Ploy – age 15
Namo Tongkumnerd … Vee – age 15 (as Namo Tonggamnerd)
Chutikan Vimuktananda … Pim – age 7
Chayakan Vimuktananda … Ploy – age 7

Re-cycle (2007) – Asian Horror Through the Looking Glass

The intersection between Fiction and Reality has provided an excellent starting point for artistic exploration, at least since Jorge Luis Borges, and here the Pang Brothers use it to reorient a career that has drifted off track since THE EYE (2002). That memorable ghost story was one of the few Asian horror films (along with the JU-ON series) that could keep pace with RING, the film that opened up a whole new territory back in 1998. Since then, the Pang Brothers have given us two disappointing sequels and an equally disappointing American debut, THE MESSENGERS. Now, with their most recent trip to the realm of supernatural horror, they attempt to prove – with some success – that they have not completely lost their way. RE-CYCLE begins in familiar territory but seeks to discover previously unexplored pathways sheltering unfamiliar frights. If, in the end, the trip rambles aimlessly through some dull patches, you have to admire the Pang’s effort to boldly go somewhere new. Read More

Shutter (2008) – Horror Film Review

Japanese kaidan are suffering from a severe case of cinematic over-exposure. The bright light of the projector bulb has burned away most of the mystery surrounding the various yurei, onryo, zashiki-warashi, and jikininki that have haunted the screen since Sadako emerged from her well in 1998’s RING. If there is a “seen it all before” ennui to recent Asian offerings, the American remakes have taken repetition one step further, creating a series of photo duplicates that have been variously air-brushed, blown-up, brightened, blurred, cropped, sharpened, and stylized in a failed attempt to surpass the superiority of the originals. SHUTTER, the latest photographic enlargement of an Asian horror picture, is clearer and sharper than many of its predecessors, but even the most expert re-touching cannot obscure the fact that we have seen it all before – and seen it again – many times. Read More

Shutter (2004) – DVD Review

Strange things – ugly, scary, awful – lie hidden in the dark, unseen but not forgotten, waiting for their chance to manifest, crawling back into consciousness like Freud’s “Return of the Repressed” – refusing to lie quietly in the shadows, no matter how hard some characters try to keep the lights out. Invisible to the naked eye, they nonetheless manifest themselves via modern technology – in this case the camera lens, resulting in eerie “Spirit Photographs” that depict both the living and the dead. Are these images caused by guilty secrets or ghosts? In SHUTTER, the two are tied inextricably together, creating a chilling portrait of supernatural retribution from beyond the grave – one that will give even jaded J-horror fans a few pleasant goosebumps. After numerous films like RING (Japan, 1998), THE EYE (China, 2002), and a TALE OF TWO SISTERS (South Korea, 2003), you may think that the Asian ectoplasmic onslaught has dissipated like an exorcized spirit, but over the last few years Thailand has stepped in to fill the preternatural void, offering a handful of fine fright films that revitalize the familiar undead elements (including the spooky ghost girl with long black hair). One of the best of these, SHUTTER may not feel entirely new, but it is far more than a mindless zombie going through the familiar motions.
The story follows Tun (Ananda Everingham) and Jane (Natthaweeranuch), a young couple who run over a woman on the way home from a wedding party. Jane, who was behind the wheel, wants to go back and help, but Tun insists they drive away. While Jane is haunted by guilt, Tun goes about his business as a photographer, but he soon notices strange anomalies on the images he snaps: inexplicable streaks of light and shadow that sometimes seem to resemble the accident victim. Jane stumbles upon the alleged phenomenon of “Spirit Photography” and learns that ghost often manifest in images of loved ones whom they do not wish to leave. The ghost begins manifesting not only in photographs but also in dreams, eventually appearing to Tun while he is awake. Jane thinks she and Tun are being haunted by the woman they ran over, but Tun seems reluctant to admit the possibility or explore the mystery. Following clues in Tun’s photographs, she eventually learns why: the woman appearing in the photographs is Natre (Achita Sikamana), an old girlfriend who disappeared mysteriously after Tun treated her badly. What really happened, and why are all of Tun’s freinds from the wedding party suddenly committing suicide?


One of the eerie, effective elements of many Japanese ghost stories is the sense of randomness (most obviously manifested in the JU-ON films and their American remake THE GRUDGE, wherein you only had to step into the wrong house to be marked for death). SHUTTER works on a completely different level, with a ghost pursuing specific people in retaliation for a heinous act. This creates a servicable mystery plot that propels the film along at a decent pace. It also ties the characters to the supernatural events in ways that are relatable to the audience: most of us have not been literally haunted by a ghost, but more than a few of us have been haunted by guilty secrets in our past. This allows for some solid dramatic developments, and all the pieces – for good or ill – fall into place in a way that is entirely satisfying. There is just the right amount of complicity justify the haunting, mixed with enough regret to maintain sympathy for the character, and the film’s final shot is equal parts pathos and terror: for once, justice -as horrible as it is – is meeted out in a manner completely appropriate to the crime.
The scare tactics easily exceed anything seen in recent American attempts to cash in on the Asian horror invasion (including remakes of ONE MISSED CALL and THE EYE). The storyline is punctuated with numerous little spooky vignettes (an innocent medical technician who seems to call Tun a “lying bastard” in the dead girl’s voice; a ghostly face on a photograph that suddenly turns to look at Tun; the final-reel explanation for the pain in Tun’s neck, which has been forshadow by a nature documentary on the Preyming Mantis), and there are some imaginative and original set pieces. In one, the screen goes mostly black when the lights turn out, illuminated only intermittently by the flash of Tun’s photographic equipment, relying on the film viewer’s persistence of vision to pick out the uncanny details, such as the ghost who appears only for a frame or two and then disappears again. Slighly more conventional, but at least as startling, is the wonderful moment when Tun tries to escape the ghost by taking the a fire escape, and she pursues him down the ladder – crawling face down (perhaps an homage to Stoker’s Dracula, in which the vampire clambers down his castle wall in that fashion).
Looking a bit more like a resuscitated corpse than a disembodied spirit, Sikamana’s Natre may not surpass Sadako and Kayako as the Queen of Vengeful Ghosts, but she does deserve to be added to the family album right beside them. Everingham and Thongmee register as believable people, and their characters are blessedly free of the undue skepticism that slows down films of this type (including the upcoming American remake).
SHUTTER does tend to stop-down a bit as it enters its the last few reels. Like RING, it plays with the idea of laying a ghost to rest, only to have the horror continue unabated. Jane and Tun’s attempt to settle the karmic scorecard is not without interest, but it lacks the ticking time bomb plot device of RING. Also, there are a few moment that ring false or don’t ring at all (perhaps due to something being lost in translation).
WARNING: MINOR SPOILER
When Tun is informed that the friend he saw dive off a building is only the latest one to commit suicide, you wonder how the news never got back to him before. There is a moment with a young child, dressed like a monk, staring at Tun, the significance of which is not quite clear (even with a flashback specifically intended to clarify it). And the plot hinges on some photographs that Tun took, for reasons that don’t quite make sense: the audience guesses they were for blackmail, but it seems more likely they could have been used as evidence against the perpetrators, rather than coercion against the victim. Perhaps shame is such a strong force in Thai culture that it can explain why the victim would not want the photographs shown, but if the victim is ashamed of what happened, would the photos even be necessary?
END SPOILER
Despite some familiar sights and a very few blurry story elements, SHUTTER is well-composed snapshot of the land of the dead, exposing the supernatural in every shadow. Much of it you may have seen before, but as a college profession lectures in the film, the camera does not simply record reality; the lens interprets that reality, creating something unique, depending on the point of view. SHUTTER focuses clearly and cleverly on its ghost story, creating a creepy portrait of characters trapped in a darkroom with the dead. It may not disturb your sleep with nightmares afterwards, but while you are watching, it does deliver the shivers.

TRIVIA

Regarding the young “monk” who can apparently see a ghost, it appears that he is actually a “Nain” (or “pre-monk”). The idea is that children have pure minds and can see things clearly that adults do not; a child how is a Nain would be especially able to see something spiritual, like a ghost.

 DVD DETAILS

The Tartan Asian Extreme DVD launches with an unstoppable montage of clips from the companies various releases. It’s not bad, but it is annoying to be forced to sit through it every time you pop the disc in the player.
Options include the original Thai track in DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, plus subtitles in English and Spanish. The English subtitles are easily readable and mostly free of the embarrassing typos and mistranslations that mare many of these Asian imports.
The film is divided into fifteen chapter stops – not quite enough to easily zero in on your favorite scene, but better than nothing. The transfer is good but slightly dark. Since this is a horror film that takes place mostly in shadows, the slightly murky image seems like part of the atmosphere, but it is easy to imagine a transfer that would prevent dark-clothed cast members from blending into the backgrounds.
Special features include an original trailer, an interview with the director and the cast, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a collection of trailers from other Tartan Asia Extreme releases (A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, THE RED SHOES, THE MAID, THE GHOST, THE HAIRLOOM).
The “Interview” is actually a brief promotional piece, in which the two directors, Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, talk about the research they did into Spirit Photography, allegedly obtaining books of real photographs from a university professor, plus additional shots from their friends. There are also snippets of Ananda Everingham and Natthaweeranuch Thongmee describing their characters. Overall, this is a piece that might whet the appetite of those who are looking forward to the film, but it offers little insight to anyone who has already seen it.
The “Behind-the-Scenes” feature consists of four segments, intercutting the directors’s comments with footage showing how scenes were shot:

  1. Car Crash. We see the stunt woman take the hit from the automobile and learn that the car knocked over a sign that fell on the camera
  2. Suicide. The directors reveal the secret behind one of the film’s bravura moments: in a single take, we see someone jump off a balcony; then the camera looks over the edge, revealing the body below. The actor who leaps was suspended on a wire, caught by grips on the balcony below, and pulled out of sight. His dead “body” was a double, set up beforehand.
  3. Ladder. This shows the camera rig used to keep the lens in close on Ananda Everingham while he tries to escape Netra by climbing down the fire escape. We also get a glimpse of the safety wires attached to the actor (which were removed in post-production)
  4. Real Picture from Location. The title says it all: the directors show a digital picture taken on location, which allegedly catches the shadowy ghost of a man who died on the road.

The ghost makes a reappearance in her lover's bed.

SHUTTER (2004). Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom. Written by Banjong Pisanthanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom, Sopon Sukdapisit. Cast: Ananda Everingham, Natthaweeranuch Thongmee, Achita Sikamana, Unnop Chanpaibool. 
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The Eye (2002) – DVD Review

This is one of the best Asian ghost movies to emerge in the wake of 1998’s RING, the Japanese hit that launched the J-Horror wave. A co-production between Singapore and Hong Kong, THE EYE looks somewhat superficially similar to RING in terms of plot (it is also about a young woman searching for a solution to a haunting) and style (the ghostly manifestations convey an effective sense of the uncanny), but closer examination reveals that the two films are quite different. Camera angles, editing, and special effects are more flamboyant, offering a few more large-scale thrills, but the story-telling is less assured, stringing together some great set pieces without building up the looming sense of dread that made RING such an effective scare show even though very little overt horror was on display. Fortunately, the dramatic shortcomings are balanced not only by the scare tactics but also by a subtle emotional poignancy that elicits almost as many tears as screams. To resort to a cliche, this is one of those films that works because you care about the characters.
The story follows Mun (Angelica Lee, a.k.a. Lee Sin-Je), a blind violinist In Hong Kong who undergoes a corneal transplant to regain her sight. While adjusting to her new vision, she has trouble accounting for some of the things she sees; her doctors dismiss this as a transitional period while her brain learns to process input from her eyes, but we son realize that Mun is seeing ghosts. And not only ghosts – she also sees strange, black shrouded figures who arrive to transport the souls of the newly dead, including (in one heart-breaking scene) a young girl suffering from brain cancer. Mun’s visions eventually include glimpses of another residence superimposed on her own room, and when she fails to recognize a photograph of herself, she realizes that the reflection she sees in a mirror is not herself but the dead cornea donor, Ling (Chutcha Rujinanon). Mun tracks down Ling’s mother in Thailand and learns that the local residents considered Ling a witch because she could see the future. After her attempts to warn villagers of a lethal fire went unheeded, Ling committed suicide, for which her mother has never forgiven her. Mun affects a reconciliation between mother and daughter, so that Ling’s restless spirit may move on. Returning home, Mun encounters a traffic jam. Frightened by the appearance of hundreds of dark shrouded figures, Mun  hurries to warn the drivers of an impending explosion. But will her warnings be taken any more seriously than Ling’s…?
The great coup of THE EYE resides in the in wonderfully eerie premise: a woman sees dead people, but she does not know what she is seeing, because vision is new to her. This puts a slightly different spin on the usual skepticism expressed by the doctors around Mun, who attribute her visions not to mental illness but to her unfamiliarity with being able to see.
The screenplay does a fine job of setting up the story and introducing us to the main character, who then holds our attention for the rest of the film (thanks in large part to a sympathetic performance from Angelica Lee). The first-person approach (keeping Mun at center stage and revealing the action through her eyes, if you will) helps hold the set pieces together. More than that, it creates a powerful audience identifation bound, so that the emotional impact of events on Mun is strongly felt, whether they be the appearnces of ghosts or the death of another patient in the hospital.
Directing brothers Danny and Oxide Pang (who also edited the film) do a wonderful job of presenting the supernatural in a credible manner. (An encounter with a dead man in an elevator – his feet floating inches above the floor – ranks as one of the absolutely most terrifying scenes ever captured on film.) They use lots of stylistic flash, but it is usually orchestrated to achieve emotional effects, either scary or sentimental. Occasionally, the montage editing (e.g., Mun’s glimpses of Ling’s past life) goes on too long, but film seldom if ever seems to be hitting you over the head; it simply makes each point with maximum effectiveness, and then moves on.
The plot follows somewhat conventional form (there is a trouble ghost who needs to be put to rest), but our identification with Mun carries us along, eager to see what will happen to her. Unfortunately, the climax focuses more on spectacle than dramatic resolution. The conflagration is rendered in horrifying detail (offering explosive thrills of a kind not seen in most ghost stories), but its plot function is slightly contrived: with Mun’s actions clearing echoing Ling’s, we are supposed to feel that the story is somehow coming full circle, but the point, if any, remains unclear. This may be simply a case of the filmmakers imposing an arbitrary circular structure because they could not come up with a dramatically satisfying resolution.
The back-where-we-started denouement may be thematically cryptic, and the pacing may sometimes be too slow (because the film feels comfortable building carefully to its effects), but there is no denying the film’s overall effectiveness THE EYE offers an intriguing look into the world of supernatural horror, one filled with shadowy figures glimpsed at the edge of sight and with more clearly visible souls of the dead intruding upon every day spaces, leaving no room for comfort. In the end, there seems to be little or no deliberate menace from the departed, but THE EYE shows that the mere perception of the presence is enough to unnerve, to disquiet, to delight with fright.

 DVD DETAILS

The DVD release of THE EYE presents the film in a wiedescreen transfer with Dolby sound. The soundtrack is in Cantonese and Thai with English subtitles. (NOTE: when Mun goes to Thailand, American viewers may be confused to hear her and her doctor-boyfriend suddenly speaking English; the idea is that, not speaking Thai, they use English as a common language to communicate with the locals.)
Bonus features include a trailer, cast and crew information (in text form), and a featurette about the making of the film. To some extent, the featurette is a standard promotional piece, with the producer, actors, and direcotrs providing interviews intercut with footage from the film.
Fortunately, there are some interesting behind-the-scenes details. Producer Lawrence Cheng talks about his efforts to organize co-productions between various Asian countries (THE EYE features cast and crew from Malaysia, China, Singapore, and Thailand.) The Pang Brothers reveal that their inspiration came from reading a story about a girl who committed suicide after receiving a cornea transplant, and the mention that the explosive finale during the traffic jam was based on a real incident. Perhaps most amusingly, there are brief soundbites from people who allegedly experienced the sort supernatural encounters scene in the film, implying that these, too, are based on real incidents.

One of the film's highlights: Mun finds herself trapped in an elevator with a ghostly old man

THE EYE (“Gin Gwai,” 2002). Directed by Oxide Pang & Danny Pang. Written by Jojo Hui and Danny Pang & Oxide Pang. Cast: Lee Sin-Je, Lawerence Chou, Chutcha Rujinanaon, Yut Lai So, Candy Lo, Yin Ping Ko, Pierre Png, Edmund Chen, Wai-Ho Yung, Wilson Yip.
FILM AND DVD REVIEW: The Eye 2 – The Eye 10 The Eye (remake)