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May 28, 2011

Gin gwai

by Franz Patrick


Gin gwai (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★

A woman (Angelica Lee) who had been blind for most of her life had the opportunity to receive a corneal transplant so she could see again. Initially, the operation seemed to be successful but Mun eventually started to see ghosts and strange omens when someone was about to die. “Gin gwai” or “The Eye,” directed by Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang, was a genuinely scary horror picture which could have been an instant classic if it had toned down some of its visual effects and strengthened the backstory of the woman who used to own Mun’s new corneas. The first time I saw this film, I was very impressed because its beauty was in the details. When the protagonist was finally able to see, the material was smart enough to be as realistic as possible in terms of a former blind person’s transition. That is, despite the fact that Mun could now see, she still relied on her touch to “see” and recognize objects. People who have a science background might take the details for granted, but for the casual viewers, the doctors’ explanation of the current disconnect between the eyes and brain was critical. Mun’s confrontation with the ghosts were downright chilling. The scene with the old man in the elevator was something that could not easily be forgotten. The Pang Brothers knew the difference between suspense and horror. They used an ordinary activity (taking an elevator), put a person with an extraordinary ability in a cramped space with a ghost–the suspense–and allowing the person to realize she was not alone and that she had spend some time with the entity until she reached her floor of interest–the horror. The images which came hand-in-hand with creepy sounds elevated the terror. The formula of build-up and pay-off was apparent but it was executed with skill so I did not at all mind. Unfortunately, the pacing of the film slowed down considerably when Mun and her doctor/romantic interest (Lawrence Chou) visited Thailand to track down a woman who used to own Mun’s corneas. They figured that if the ghost finally found peace, the strange ability would finally cease. I thought it was cliché and I felt like the writers could have written a more inspired backstory. Furthermore, the scenes with ghosts going through Mun’s body in an attempt to touch her were ineffective. The anticipation of ghosts catching up with her was more than enough. Nevertheless, the movie’s shortcomings were overshadowed by its many rewards. The characters were relatable because they were smart, the concept of transplant-gone-wrong was consistently interesting, and the scares were earned. Modern American horror pictures can learn a thing or two from its craftsmanship.

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