You Know It On Touch, Not On Sight: The Eye (2002)

I had originally slated another Pang Brothers film in the slot for this day in the marathon, but when doing some last minute perusing on my "to be watched" shelf which is in a constant state of caving in upon itself, I realized I already had one of their films waiting, one that was far more inclined to be read as a horror film than the one I had planned on viewing.  The film, The Eye, is perhaps most associated with its Jessica Alba remake some six years later, for which I have not seen, nor do I really care to.  However, my deep adoration for the last decade and some change of Asian horror films drew me to this without a moments hesitation, more so considering that this one navigates between a few different spaces of Asia, never making a clear distinction between the changes aside from dialects that most Western audiences, myself included, would be hard pressed to distinguish.  As such, there is a certain degree of privilege to the national viewer in a film like The Eye, which is not to say that it is distancing or alienating in its output.  The Eye is about as well made a thriller as one can ask for without completely detaching itself from the horror elements with which it borrows from liberally.  The Pang Brothers understand that what they have created is first and foremost a focus on one woman and her struggle to find meaning and purpose when her worldview is literally expanded in previously inconceivable ways, however, that does mean that there are not some genuinely creepy moments sprinkled throughout the film.  In fact, I would posit that this, a rather overlooked Chinese/Singapore horror thriller contains what may well be the scariest ghost appearance in any film I have ever encountered.  It is not a particularly ghoulish apparition, nor is it grotesque in any sort of body horror way.  It is unsettling because the directors make it non-apparent, indeed existing in the corner of the screen, as though it is almost scary to discover it than to not be aware at all.  In a world of post-modern horror genre films embracing the excess, The Eye in all its cinematic intensity and moments of truly spine chilling horror, manages to remind viewers that the scariest things are those only a few are privilege, nay, cursed to encounter.

The Eye focuses on Wong Kar Mun (Angelica Lee) a woman who has spent nearly all of her life blind after an accident in her youth left her so.  Yet, upon the information that a donor matching her type has recently been made available, her family, particularly her grandmother, rushes to get her an operation.  Although the other people in the space of her hospital room seem to fair far less in their sickness or troubles, Mun's operation is successful and with some basic rehabilitation and a pair of sunglasses she is capable of moving into the world with newly rediscovered sight.  However, her new vision-abled site is not quite as welcoming as she suspected, because where people were previously willing to help her navigate the spaces of her town, she now finds that people assume her completely capable of perfect vision, despite still struggling to completely see objects at time.  More so, her one passion as a violinist is trampled when she is kicked out of her former all blind orchestra, precisely because she is no longer blind.  If these issues were not enough, Mun begins to pick up floating entities and bodies emerging in her peripheral vision that simply should not exist, whether it be a man standing stoically in the middle of free way or a ghoulish mother and child floating into the space of a restaurant.  When her physical therapist and new found romantic interest becomes aware that perhaps her claims to be seeing entities beyond the dimensional space of normal perception, might be valid, he helps her to undertake a quest to find the donor.  This task of course proves quite troublesome since donor information is made decidedly confidential, however, the drive of both Mun and her doctor, lead them to Bangkok where it is discovered that the woman who previously held Mun's eyes was a social pariah because of her fatally accurate visions of death.  These uncontrollable visions led to the woman's suicide, thus affording Mun the eyes.  Helping to end the cycle of the unfortunate loss through a near perfect recreation of the suicide, Mun helps to put the woman's soul at ease.  Unfortunately, this does not necessarily end the visions for Mun who is confronted with one last series of death encounters, before she comes to lose the second sight, in a return to her original state of vision and, subsequently, her happiness.

Considering that I am currently working on a paper (which appears to be close to publication!) on the nature of disability in a certain big-budget super hero franchise, I am particularly keen as to when films productively deal with, or more so fail to deal with issues of confronting disability.  In a rare moment, The Eye manages to do the former and show a rather earnest look into what it means to be blind and, more importantly, how even when altered or corrected that previous blindness can still prove detrimental to one's world view, almost as if it were a very personalized consideration of the affect theory.  Mun finds considerable challenge in the act of expressing herself because how she sees the world is so distinctly different from the vision abled people she interacts with, whether it be her frustrated grandmother who no longer wants her child to be a burden, or her doctor who seems so attached to the medical elements of her blindness as to assume her every feeling and frustration without asking her opinion or interpersonal struggles.  Similarly, the film also considers what happens to a disabled person should they find themselves fortunate enough to become able bodied.  Indeed, Mun is removed from her friendship with blind persons through her new found privilege, but it is a reminder that even when she is afforded sight she still has the memory of a time when darkness was all she could sense.  Indeed, the film takes on yet another layer of disability narrative in how "one sees the world," particularly once Mun can see and even when she is capable of seeing, it is through her other senses as the doctor notes.  Finally, what makes the film an absolutely intriguing study of disability is in how the work navigates the post-operation sight of Mun, who invariably pulls from her former blind self in her description of the world and even her instantly matured sight is seen as something that is still burgeoning.  As such, her extrasensory vision, is deemed the exact opposite at first, precisely because she is still othered as a result of a now extinct disability.  The cinematic conventions of this film provide the final element of pro-disability narrative by reaffirming the possible visions a person learning to see might encounter, whether it be flickering lights, or blurry background imagery.

Key Scene:  Subway train ride.  If you watch this keep your eyes peeled (I realize the brilliance in this moment of the film now as I write this).  If you do, prepared to be scared beyond belief.

This DVD is super cheap on Amazon.  Buy a copy, it is well worth the cost.

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