April 24, 2019 The Anatomy of a Remake: The Eye
Just as slashers ran wild through the 1970s and 1980s, Asian Horror remakes made their headway in the early 2000s. Films like 1998’s Ringu hinted at the creepier, more skin-crawling kind of horror over the brash, stalking terror of 1996’s Scream. Then, once the millennium came about, the floodgates opened. Ringu became The Ring in 2002. Then 2002’s Ju-on: The Grudge and Dark Water became 2004’s The Grudge and 2005’s Dark Water.
For better or worse, all things come to an end. Although, there was not much good left by the end of the 2000s. As we all know 2008’s One Missed Call and Shutter did not reach the same heights as The Ring or The Grudge because there was already a blowback against Asian Horror by this point. The films seemed to be all creep, but no shocks, and limp remakes were not going to turn that tide.
Case in point, 2002’s The Eye, originally titled Gin gwai, directed by Pang brothers Danny and Oxide-Chun (Bangkok Dangerous 2002, The Messengers 2007). It told the story of Wong Kar Mun (Angelica Lee: Re-cycle 2006), a blind woman who regains her sight through a cornea transplant. However, she starts seeing ghosts in plain sight, along with premonitions of a deadly disaster. With the help of Dr Wah (Lawrence Chou: Dragon Squad 2005), she tries to find out why she sees dead people, and how the disaster can be avoided.
The film earned favorable reviews at the time. While it did not blow critics away, it got the ratings equivalent of a polite nod. That said, it certainly did well enough for Cruise/Wagner Productions to pick up the remake rights and get the ball rolling.
David Moreau (Ils 2006, Alone 2017) and Xavier Palud (Blind Man 2012, Intrusion 2015) were assigned to direct the film, based on a screenplay written by Sebastian Gutierrez (Judas Kiss 1998, Girl Walks into a Bar 2011). The remake also credited the Pang Brothers and Yuet-Jan Hui (The Warlords 2007, Dragon 2011), the original’s co-writer, as the remake retained a lot from the original film. Even some of the camera shots resembled those of the original, like the ending climax.
Also titled The Eye, it was released to theaters on February 1st, 2008 through Lionsgate, just managing to break even at the box office, earning $56.9 million on an estimated $12 million budget. Yet it was pilloried in the press.
So, where did it all go wrong? Moreau voiced his own dissatisfaction in an interview with the Daily Mail in 2014, saying he was shut out of the editing room. Seventeen minutes had been taken out of the final cut, reducing the 114-minute runtime to 97 minutes. Though neither critics nor audiences mourned the loss of this director’s cut.
Most of the negative attention focused on Jessica Alba (Dark Angel series, Sin City 2005) as heroine Sydney Wells. Alba had tried to get into the role of a blind musician by spending time with soprano Singer Jessica Bachicha, though portraying blindness was not the problem. Her emotional range comes off as limited, and her performance gets flatter as the film progresses. In fact, her role was bad enough to earn her a nomination at the following year’s Golden Raspberry Awards. Fortunately for her she ended up losing out to Paris Hilton (Zoolander 2001, Repo! The Genetic Opera 2008) in The Hottie & The Nottie.
The supporting cast is fairer by comparison. Parker Posey (Dazed and Confused 1993, Scream 3 2000) does a better performance here than in 2005’s Blade: Trinity. Likely because The Eye’s production was not as much of a mess as that film’s backstage shenanigans. Alessandro Nivola (Face/Off 1997, Jurassic Park III 2001) does a fair job as Well’s partner Dr Faulkner too.
The film also featured a very young Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass 2010, Let Me In 2010) in one of her early roles as Alicia, a child Sydney befriends in hospital. Her equivalent character in the original was the center point for the film’s most emotional scene. It put the scares aside to produce a scene that effectively plucked the viewers’ heartstrings. In the remake, it is just another moody, scary scene that was about as impactful as its other scares.
In truth, high-end Hollywood Horror films have a problem with relying on jump scares. Why scare the ratings board with buckets of blood when one can just make the audience flinch for 90 minutes? The remake does provide a few genuinely creepy moments, such as Wells’ refuge in a Chinese restaurant. Though they are not creepy enough to linger with the viewer after the film is over. They live in the moment before being followed by a jump scare.
So, ultimately, The Eye’s remake was one of the last few thrashes of a dead horse. There were more Asian Horror remakes to come, yet the time of death had already been called. In its favor, the film managed to balance out faithfulness to the source material with a few new ideas. Yet it did not make up for the lackluster lead performance and jump scare clichés. Despite intents and purposes, The Eye’s remake is a lame duck and fans should most certainly always turn to the Pang Brothers’ original.