Sunday, February 3, 2008

Blind Spot In A Remake

Take the Pang brothers' The Eye, multiply everything in it by 10 times, and you have the Hollywood remake starring Jessica Alba. And I don't mean that in a good way.

Granted, the remake is generally not too bad. But, if you've seen the original, you'll have to wonder what the whole point is in remaking an already good film. The story remains largely the same, but the one fundamental change they made for the remake pretty much screws up the whole film. The Pang brothers' version keenly observed a sense of the inevitability of both life and death. That sums up the general cultural view or belief in unavoidable fate, and it made the original a downbeat affair that closes on a note of the unknown for its protagonist, the blind girl played by Anjelica Lee.

But this westernised version is peculiar in a few ways. One is that that sense of plunging headlong into the future is taken away and given a typical Hollywood heroic beat of overcoming the odds. (Or as Modern Talking once cheesily noted, you can win if you want, if you want it you can win.)

Secondly, this is probably the first time I've seen such earnestness in a remake to pay tribute to its source that both the Cantonese AND Mandarin titles of the original are credited in the opening. And at every chance they get, Asian references are included. One of Sydney (Alba)'s neighbours is Mrs Cheung, the dead boy looking for his report card is Chinese, and one of the key fright scenes, as in the original, takes place in a Chinese restaurant. The latter, however, while it deviates from the original, is a nicely done twist.

But the replacement for the calligraphy scene in the original somewhat lacks the coherence that made the original scene exceptionally frightening. (In the original, she was sitting in the dead woman's seat.)

The original story also has its devices deeply entrenched in eastern cultural beliefs, that ghosts crave food even in the afterlife, and other such matters. Once these are removed, the effects are diminished somewhat. And having the loud noises and other jolts magnified ten times does nothing to improve upon the original. (The old man in the lift is extra gory in the remake, as is the "report card" kid. When Sydney's room changes, there's accompanying "morphing" sounds. The hospital sequence is stretched out unnecessarily.) And, I just have to ask, what's with Hollywood and its obsession with roaring ghosts? Can't Hollywood ghosts be a little more on the quiet side?

Lastly, some scenes are just cinematically wrong. Like in the original, we are privy to what the protagonist sees, and we share her perspective of things. Both versions feature her voice-over narration in the beginning and ending. But in the remake, it veers away several times from that, so that we, the audience, see what Sydney isn't even aware of. So who's Eye are we talking about then?

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