When thinking about The Girl from the Naked Eye, I like to imagine that Humphrey Bogart was a black belt. In The Maltese Falcon, instead of getting knocked out, he whipped around and kicked some ass. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but wouldn’t that have been awesome if it did? That’s kind of like what The Girl from the Naked Eye is. Here’s a dude who can defend himself against half a dozen guys barely breaking a sweat.
It’s a shame, then, that it can’t live up to films like The Maltese Falcon, because it really should be amazing. But it isn’t. It really, really isn’t.
The Girl from the Naked Eye
Director: David Ren
Release Date: 6/15/12 (Limited)
Like a lot of mystery stories, a significant portion of The Girl from the Naked Eye is told through a series of flashbacks. It begins with a murder. Or slightly after a murder. Jake (Jason Yee) arrives at his friend Sandy’s (Samantha Streets) apartment and finds her dead from a bullet wound. Jake vows to find Sandy’s killer and return the favor, and that is the driving force for the film. But Sandy wasn’t just Jake’s friend. You see, Sandy was a prostitute. You would think (and most of the peripheral characters in the film do think) that this means that the two of them are having fun under the sun or something like that, but they aren’t.
The two are, in a sense, associates. Jake is a driver for Simon (Ron Yuan), a pimp who runs the Naked Eye club. Because prostitutes are often taken advantage of, Simon makes sure that they have someone there to make sure clients stick with the program and pay their dues. Despite reservations about the people he is driving, Jake needs the money and is good at driving cars and beating people up. So he does it, but he does it begrudgingly.
Sandy was different from most of the other girls, and The Girl from the Naked Eye spends quite a bit of time trying to prove it. Amidst the bloodshed caused by Jake’s quest for vengeance (which I will get to in a bit) are bits of his relationship with her: the first time they met, some of their cuter moments, some of their less cute moments, etc. I couldn’t give you a breakdown percentage wise of how much time is in the past, but I would guess something like 33%. I could be completely wrong about that, but I think I’m being generously low, because it felt closer to 66%.
The most important thing you need to know about this movie is that everything about Sandy is terrible. Seriously. In the beginning, I was kind of neutral about her (then again, there’s only so much emotion you can have for a random dead person), but the more time she spent being alive the more I was glad that she ended up dead. Her biggest problem is her immaturity. She’s really young. Far too young to be doing what she is doing, and she acts her age. One of the characteristics of girls (and guys too, but less so) that age is that they think they know everything. They have the world figured out. They know what everything is like, what true love is all about, and what appropriate conduct is in any situation. Sure, there are some cases where that is probably true (e.g. Winter’s Bone), but this isn’t one of them.
What The Girl from the Naked Eye really has going for it is its action. Jason Yee is a former world-class fighter, and although he hasn’t been in the ring in over a decade, he’s clearly still a force to be reckoned with. Hands, feet, weapons, guns, Jake is capable of using all them and he definitely does. The film has everything from one-on-one fights with men who have muscles the size of cantaloupes to an admittedly awesome throwback to the masterpiece that is Park Chan Wook’s Oldboy, and Jake racks up quite the body count.
If the film were trying to be completely serious, this would some potentially worrying implications. Without any likable character traits, Sandy is hardly a character worthy of vengeance, so the rather significant amount of bloodshed would appear unjustified. It’s clear that she was important to Jake, and that’s all well and good, but it’s not enough to justify his actions to anybody else. Fortunately, like most most films with a lot of martial arts, the action has just enough ridiculousness to it to keep things from ever feeling like reality, even though most of the surrounding narrative tends towards the dramatic. This is good, because it makes it possible to take in the fights without feeling any kind of anything for what are little more than sentient punching bags.
The film presents itself as something of a comic book, opening on an animated world (as seen in the header). It’s an interesting look, but it’s vastly underutilized. It appears in the beginning and the end, and then it’s sprinkled in a couple of times throughout. But, instead of being used to accentuate anything, it almost seems like the filmmakers were trying to fill a gap, because they forgot they needed an exterior and didn’t feel like going out and filming one. It’s so rare and the shots are so short that I usually didn’t realize it had happened until the shots were over, and then I wanted them to come back. It’s definitely something unique that could have made The Girl from the Naked Eye stand out, but it was wasted.
Aside from that, the film is visually fine, but never particularly exceptional. As you can probably tell from the images, the colors are kind of drab and lifeless, but it fits the generally dark, mostly serious tone. The most notable thing about it is its use of long takes, There’s nothing too incredible here, but long takes are usually pretty cool, and here is no exception. The use of longer takes is especially cool during fight scenes. It’s rare to see an American film done by people who understand that a well-choreographed fight scene doesn’t need a closeup or a cut to mask every missed hit. So I have to give credit where credit is due.
I want to like The Girl from the Naked Eye, if only because it has some really cool fight scenes in it, but I can’t. And it all comes down to Sandy. She is awful. Every moment she was onscreen I wanted her to leave. I never liked her, cared about her, or wanted her to be revenged. When I found out who the killer was, I wanted him dead too, but not because of anything moral. He was terrible too. As a protagonist, Jake is entirely inoffensive, and that would describe most of the other characters as well. So I’m fine watching them. It’s not amazing cinema, but it’s perfectly serviceable and it has some awesome fight scenes.
But then there’s Sandy. I don’t know if it’s because of poor scripting or a terrible performance (or both), but she honestly does ruin the movie. A cut of The Girl from the Naked Eye without Sandy in it, where all we got about her were the bits and pieces that come from his inner monologue and the things we hear from the other characters would be much more compelling. I would probably care about Sandy, at least a little bit, and have more invested in Jake’s quest than an interest in seeing him punch another person in the face.
But until that cut comes, it is what is it. Which is to say, a missed opportunity.