In the first of an ongoing series of articles comparing remakes to their original films, I take a look at the 2008 Jessica Alba film The Eye, and the original Hong Kong-Singaporean film of the same name from 2002.
The original The Eye tells the story of Wong Kar Mun (Angelica Lee), a young woman living in Hong Kong that has been blind since the age of two. After receiving a cornea transplant her sight is restored, but she also begins to see strange apparitions that she believes to be ghosts.
Along with her psychologist Dr. Wah (Lawrence Chou), she investigates into her donor, and discovers that her new eyes came from a Chiu Wai-ling (Chutcha Rujinanon), a young woman from Thailand who had the psychic ability to foresee death and disaster.
The 2008 remake has a very similar story, though some small details have been changed. Instead of having lost her eyesight at the age of two Sydney Wells (Jessica Alba) lost her sight at the age of five. The location has also been moved to Los Angeles, with her donor Ana Christina Martinez (Fernanda Romero) being from Mexico.
Despite these small alterations much of the remake follows a similar path, with events unfolding much in the same way that they do in the original. The remake has less focus on Sydney before the operation that the original did with Mun, but makes up for this by giving more focus over to her rediscovering her sight. The remake includes moments of Sydney just taking in the world around her, her blurred vision a thing of wonder to her.
The remake also makes it obvious that Sydney lived a very different way before her operation, with her apartment having to be fitted with new lamps because she didn’t need them before, her computer having a speaking function so that she can hear what is on screen, and her printer being braille. These are very small details, but it reinforces the notion that this isn’t just a story about a young woman suddenly seeing ghosts, but as someone whose entire world has suddenly changed.
One area that I feel the remake misses out, however, is in her musical career. In the original Mun is part of a blind orchestra, playing the violin. Once she regains her sight she is told that she can’t be part of the orchestra anymore because she’s no longer blind. This is a massive blow to the character, as she’s losing both an activity that she loves, and a community that she’s part of. The remake, by contrast, has Sidney in a regular orchestra, one where she is a stand out because of her disability. The original made a big thing about the orchestra being a place for Mun to feel at home, to be around people who share her experience, but the remake misses this completely.
The biggest difference between the two films though, is the tone. The original film feels much more grounded and real compared to the American remake. The remake has a much glossier, cleaner look to it, whilst the original has a more rundown aesthetic. This carries across into the cinematography, where the remake uses a lot more warmer tones compared to the pale greens and greys of the original.
Whilst this may not make a big difference normally, it does serve to make the remake less scary. The original film is much darker, and the ghosts inhabit the world in a much more frightening way, whilst the remake seems to rely on more jump scares than atmosphere to generate fright.
One of the best scenes in the original (and one of my all time favourite horror movie moments) sees Mun trapped in a lift with a ghost, who’s slowly moving closer and closer to her. This scene is repeated in the remake, but fails to capture the tension and dread that the original had. This one scene is perhaps the biggest indicator of how the two films are different. The original is a horror film with a mystery for the main character to solve, where the remake feels like a mystery that happens to have a few ghosts in it.
The films endings are where they differ the most in story, with the remake having Mun fail to prevent a disaster she had been having visions of that results in the deaths of hundreds of people, whilst the remake has Sidney saving everyone. Whilst both scenarios result in the character losing their eyesight once again, they have vastly different tones and end messages.
Whilst the remake isn’t a bad film by any stretch, it does lack a lot of the atmosphere and nuance that makes the original such a good horror film. By all means, watch both, but if you can only see one, make it the original.