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Friday, May 28, 2021

The Pang Brothers’ ‘The Eye’ Is a Must-See Chinese Ghost Story [Horrors Elsewhere]

Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not always be universal, but one thing is for sure  a scream is understood, always and everywhere.

Medical myths of people taking on their donors’ personality traits or gaining their memories have circulated for years. Even though there is no concrete evidence to suggest such a phenomenon exists, the stories are nonetheless easy to believe, not to mention compelling. There is even a small niche of horror movies where said transplants give people uncanny abilities, warp their usual behavior, or cause them to seek justice for the donator. The 2002 film The Eye blends all three narratives; the gripping supernatural story centers on a woman whose gift of sight turns out to be a mixed blessing.

The Pang Brothers’ second feature, a Hong Kong-Singaporean production first released in 2002, centers on a 20-year-old violinist named Wong Kar Mun (Angelica Lee) and the events following her cornea transplant. Mun has been blind for the last eighteen years, so she has to make giant life adjustments after the successful operation. This includes learning how to write in Chinese and then visually associating words with objects she has only ever known by touch. The biggest change, however, is her newfound power of sensing death. The realization is not immediate seeing as Mun is still adapting to everything, but the truth becomes undeniable.

Ghosts are pervasive in Chinese cultures. Religions in the West have made people more skeptical towards the idea of ghosts, but Asian regions tend to both fear and revere their homegrown spirits. A place like Hong Kong is superstitious partly because everyone wants to increase their success and avoid misfortune, and adhering to old customs is one way of reaching those goals. Another belief that relates to The Eye regards secondhand goods; used items carry bad luck or are possessed by ghosts. The Pangs’ movie is a loose yet valid interpretation of this antiquated taboo, which modern Hong Kongers have recently moved away from in light of the popularity of resale shops.

The type of ghost frequently seen in The Eye is an example of a dì fù líng (earthbound spirit) from Chinese folklore; they haunt specific places like their grave or anywhere else they feel an attachment to. Mun crosses paths with a number of these spirits as she acclimates to her new life. One recurring encounter involves her grandmother’s neighbors’ son, who repeatedly asks Mun about his lost report card. Later, it is revealed the boy died of suicide months earlier after never finding the card — Mun’s grandmother (Ko Yin-ping) and sister Yee (Candy Lo) are seen burning it later as a way to help the boy move on — and after his parents accused him of lying. This subplot not only touches on suicide culture in Hong Kong, it also illustrates Chinese spiritual practices without ever coming off as academic. The uninformed may find trouble understanding these elements since they are never explained, yet upon learning them, the movie’s story immediately becomes more substantial.

The majority of the ghosts shown in the first half of the movie are ones who have since passed away and are simply lingering for different reasons. There is a hint of things to come as Mun blurriedly makes out a shadowy figure in the hospital; what she assumes is another patient’s late-night visitor is really one of many Grim Reaper-like entities in charge of escorting new spirits to the other side. So in addition to seeing the ghosts who have yet to pass on, Mun can predict someone’s death before it happens. This is where the Pang Brothers introduce a more Western aspect to their film; Chinese culture does not have a lone personification of death. Instead, the ruler of the underworld in Chinese mythology, Yánluó Wáng, has several messengers who fetch new souls and bring them to him for judgment. The silhouetted collectors in The Eye are far less menacing than the duos Hēibái Wúcháng and Ox-Head and Horse-Face.

Mun’s blindness spared her from witnessing life’s cruelties. Knowing bad things exist is different from seeing them firsthand. The beautiful world Mun envisioned proves to be the opposite; everywhere she goes, she sees death and sadness. Between children dying in horrible ways and a full-scale tragedy that claims many lives, Mun is overwhelmed by the world at its worst. She would normally find comfort in an all-blind orchestra she plays in, but with her eyesight restored, she is no longer eligible to participate. Regaining her vision has only caused Mun to lose her identity — and take on someone else’s.

In an effort to understand where her new ability comes from, Mun and her therapist Dr. Wah (Lawrence Cho) travel to northern Thailand to learn more about the cornea donor Ling (Chutcha Rujinanon). This young woman took her life after failing to stop a disaster she foresaw, and now her spirit cannot rest because her mother (Wang Sue Yuen) does not forgive her. Giving both parent and child closure would be a fitting end to the movie, yet there is still more to come.

On their way home, Mun and Dr. Wah get stuck in traffic because of an accident on the highway. This is when Mun sees a swarm of shadows descend on the area and realizes what is about to happen. History essentially repeats itself with the same unfortunate outcome after a tanker truck explodes and kills numerous people. This is among the many differences between the Pangs’ movie and David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s English-language remake. In the Jessica Alba-led redo, Mun’s counterpart saves the day but still endures the loss of her vision. The remake evades the original’s somberness and cognizance, as well as ends on a treacly, confused note devoid of the Pangs’ complexity. Meanwhile, Mun acknowledges the duality of her gift; it was as much a blessing as it was a curse. Her awareness is writ large as she finally returns to her old life.

It is a testament to the Pangs’ craftsmanship when viewers are equally invested in both Mun’s post-op readjustment and the supernatural mystery in store. That is not to say the horror is tacked on; the movie’s creeping but effective pace is an advantage at many points. From smoldering scares including the most suspenseful elevator ride in cinema, to the unhurried and organic character development, The Eye is an all-around achievement in spectral storytelling.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3667354/pang-brothers-eye-must-see-chinese-ghost-story-horrors-elsewhere/

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