September 2nd, 2018

Yellow and Red Vertigo

The Cornea of Another

Adjusting to a whole different way of perceiving and interacting with the world seems like it would be hard enough without it entailing things no-one believes or understands. A woman blind since childhood has her eyesight restored in 2002's The Eye (見鬼) with the unexpected added ability to see dead people. Some overwrought stylistic choices on the part of the filmmakers, particularly in score and sound, don't detract too much from the film's effectiveness and it's a good horror film with keen attention to a sequence of sensory experience.

Mun (Angelica Lee) undergoes surgery to replace her corneas and finds this is only the beginning of the journey to being able to see the world. Light is too bright and things are too blurry and she meets with a psychotherapist (Lawrence Chou) who explains she needs to build up her "visual vocabulary". To demonstrate, he holds up a stapler and shows that, although she might instantly recognise it by touch, she has no idea how to identify it yet by sight.

I suspect there's even more physical therapy and rehabilitation involved in such a situation but the movie gives us just enough to appreciate the circumstances. It makes it much more effective when Mun starts to see things that other people can't. Naturally, she herself doesn't even realise immediately she's seeing anything she's not supposed to when an elderly woman across from her stands up, is led away by a shadowy figure, and vanishes. It's all new for Mun and this has the effect of making the audience even more afraid for her.

When Mun does first become really alarmed by the ghost of an old woman in the hospital corridor, the music goes up to a screech and the sound mix adds in a bunch of screams that don't come from anyone. Something about it seemed very dated, a cinematic auditory trick from the late 90s and early 00s, and now it had the wrong effect on me, making me think, "I suppose really one would get used to seeing dead people all the time."

And the appearances of the dead do get gradually less alarming so it's good the film comes up with new wrinkles, one arising from a very effective twist that pulls a rug out from under Mun's perspective on everything that happened in the first two thirds of the film. There are two explanations offered for Mun's abilities and a few other plot strands that seem like remnants from an earlier draft, like a woman at a cafe who casually mentions also being able to see ghosts but who's not questioned by Mun and is never seen again. In a way, though, even this adds to a nice sense of free flowing ideas in the film which remains effectively suspenseful to the end.