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Jian gui (The Eye)

(2003) *** Unrated
98 min. distributer. Directors: Danny Pang, Oxide Pang. Cast: Lee Sin Je, Lawrence Chou, Chutcha Rujinanon, Candy Lo, Pierre Png.

The Eye begins with a jolting stunt and an admonition to "SIT TIGHT..." Shortly thereafter, a young heroine tells us, in voice-over, "Some people say this world is ugly, but it is beautiful at the same time. I'm about to see it with new eyes." American audiences may feel they're watching something old, since The Eye recalls a handful of stateside fright pictures, but by craftily exploiting a solid premise, the Pang Brothers make a solid case for their ophthalmology clinic.

The Eye plays like The Sixth Sense by way of Michael Apted's Blink and Mark Pellington's bizarre The Mothman Prophecies from last year. Surely the former provided some inspiration for this "I can kind of see dead people" story. Lee Sin-je plays Mun, a blind woman whose second chance at sight gives her "second sight." After an operation on her eyes, Mun begins seeing inexplicable visions of the dead, creepy Grim Reapers, a Thai village, and the future. She recruits her handsome young psychotherapist (Lawrence Chou) to help her get to the bottom of her accursed new talent.

The Pang Brothers--Oxide and Danny--share writing, editing, and directing duties. Though these Thai twins are approaching middle age, they sometimes evince the boyish, reckless enthusiasm of spectral-thriller fanboys. Lonely corridors, floating menaces, and various running, flying, floating, and burning grotesqueries manifest the tale's grip on the collective unconsciousness. One of the best sequences traps Mun in an elevator with a skin-crawlingly deadpan ghost. The film's ultimate climax packs the biggest, most graphic wallop, as it pronounces the gulf between blithe normality and Mun's tortured Cassandra complex. Such success led the Pangs into sequel development and Tom Cruise to option the film for a Hollywood remake.

The soul of the picture--another reason for comparison to The Sixth Sense--is represented by Lee's rather exceptional ability to convey, realistically, Mun's supernatural plight. From sightlessness to the blurry stirrings of vision to startling clarity, Lee and the Pangs stay in sync with their unsettling metaphor for living better though an awareness of death: seeing better--as the audience does--after a taste of blindness.

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