Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In short: Ghost Eyes (1974)

When Hong Kong beauty salon employee Bao-Ling (Chan Si-Gaai) gets a pair of contact lenses from a seemingly friendly optometrist in a sharp suit (Si Wai), weird things begin to happen to her. Bao-Ling starts to see ghosts, but that's the least of her problems. The optometrist visits Bao-Ling quite regularly and uses mysterious mind-control powers that just might have something to do with the contact lenses to get her to sleep with him, leaving her behind in various haunted and unpleasant places afterwards. Our heroine becomes pale and drained, just as if the contact lens guy were sucking out her energies.

Which is exactly what is happening to her. Bao-Ling's enemy is a possessed corpse out to drink up as much of her life force as possible. Once he's had his fill of Bao-Ling, the mightily unpleasant ghost compels the young woman to provide him with some of her beauty salon colleagues for further life force sucking.

Bao-Ling's only help with her situation is her friend An-Pin (Lam Wai-Tiu), but it takes quite some time until he believes her stories about dead men walking around and magical contact lenses. And even then, the best of intentions and a Taoist priest might not be enough to save Bao-Ling.

Ghost Eyes is a Shaw Brothers production directed by exploitation and horror specialist Gwai Chi-Hung who would go on to make films like Killer Snakes and The Boxer's Omen for the studio. Defying the expectations one might have of a director like him, Gwai's film is neither very explicit in its sleaze (even the sex is mostly implied), nor does it make use of many gross-out effects, nor is it completely ridiculous. As if to make up for this decided lack in obvious thrills, Gwai provides his film with a visual surface that is glossy and intensely coloured like a comic (or a giallo), and a narrative tone as high-strung as a horror manga by Kazuo Umezu that permanently threatens to spill over into the outright hysteria of the films shock sequences.

Gwai quite admirably keeps control of this tone of a panic barely held in check for the movie's full 100 minute running time, making up for the film's weaknesses like the silliness of the whole contact lens thing or the less than ideal ghost make-up that looks a bit as if the wearer had tried to drown himself in pea soup.

Watching Ghost Eyes, I couldn't shake the idea its director was trying to explore the point where the - traditionally female coded (even if it's not true) - melodrama, and the - traditionally male coded (even if it's not true) - horror genre meet, interpreting both genres as closely related parts of a cinema of intensity that makes them much more similar to each other than many fans of the respective genre might care to admit. I hardly think it is an accident Ghost Eyes' basic plot is that of a melodrama: woman meets man, feels drawn to him, man ruins her life and social standing.

It's also pretty interesting to add how uncommon it is for a Chinese/Hong Kong movie to have the sexually life force sucking monster be a man. That's a role usually filled by women (add your own thoughts about this motive as expression of male fear of female sexuality here please), and therefore one a film like this can't help but bend.


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