Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Girl From the Naked Eye

Get out your guns and kung-fu, we're reviewing The Girl From the Naked Eye!

When Jake(Jason Yee) finds the girl he drives around, Sandy(Samantha Streets) dead, he promises to find her killer, no matter what the cost.

The Girl From the Naked Eye is a smaller production, and I didn't really expect big things from it. But I was surprised how much I liked it! It's an ambitious production, and it doesn't always pull off what it tries to, but it damn near almost does.

First off, it's a martial arts noir, and if that doesn't pike your interests, check to see if you're still alive.  It's also got a diverse cast of mixed races in which white guys are not the majority.  That's noteworthy in of itself! Then again, it's about a driver for a pimp, so it's not the most forward thinking when it comes to women.  And there's quite a bit of violence against women and some rape so it does come with a trigger warning. But hey, plenty of guns and boob! Loads of boob! Plenty of boob is what I'm saying.
Jason Yee is a great martial artist!

The main story starts and ends with a less-than-great 3D shot of a pulp book version of The Girl From the Naked Eye, and the rest of the movie tries to have this semi-graphic noir style. And I really wish it went full-on Sin City with it, because it looks half-assed. Some obviously rendered cityscapes fill the establishing shots and bright red blood splatters whenever a guy gets hit or shot. And they look interesting, but there's so few of them, it feels out of place. The rest of the film just looks like a regular realistic crime drama.  If they had gone with a few more graphic touches here and there to cement the look throughout, it would have helped its style. As it stands, it's just some nice bits.

The screenplay is credited with three writers, and I'd really like to know who wrote what. Sometimes the dialogue is sharp and brilliant, and other times they just use 'Fuck' between every other word.  There is an art to swearing, and if you overuse it, instead of painting a precise picture, it comes out as sloppily throwing paint on a canvas. There is a tightly written noir entangled with a shitty fuck fuck crime movie and I desperately want to pull that noir out and put it in my favorites collection.

The story, about a down-and-out guy trying to avenge the death of a girl he cares for is actually pretty interesting. I was enthralled with finding out who did it, and enjoyed Jake's process of detection. It's a fun, dirty little noir story, and I enjoyed it up to the end.  Not to say the ending was bad, but it's just...urgh. I don't want want to spoil it, but it's good up to a point, and then it just sort of ends, and it doesn't make much sense. But then they zoom out of the graphic novel and they've written the ending on the last page.  When I freeze the DVD and read it, it sounds like a fairly good ending! It's just that they didn't implement it well enough. But the story is good. You meet a cavalcade of characters, some of which are noir tropes, and others that break noir tropes.  Some of the characters I loved and would love to see in other noirs as tropes.  Also, they set up the trope of guy-and-girl-love-each-other-but-can't-be-together with actually giving a good reason why they can't be together. Don't want to spoil it, but good job, movie!
Who is Sasha Grey?
It fairs pretty well on the noir scale. It's a dark and gritty world, populated with characters that are different shades of grey. No one's all good or all bad.  Jake isn't a detective, he's just some guy who's pretty good at hitting things. He's a complex character. He lives in an entrancing world, and I can feel it seeping out, but it doesn't quite make it all the way. They have flashbacks of his relationship with Sandy, which aren't terrible, but they could have been more stylized to set them apart from the current story.

Then there's the fighting. The fighting is really really good. It's one of the high-points, and if you're into great fight scenes, you should definitly check this one out. Jason Yee is a professional fighter in San-Shou kickboxing, and you can tell. They're brutal and really well choreographed  There's one fight at the end that looks as though they ripped it from Old Boy, but it's still a great fight. The gunplay is great too, but really, you come for the fighting. Why there aren't more kung-fu noirs, I don't know. Get on that everyone!

Ron Yuan makes a pretty good conflicted bad guy!
I can see what they were trying to do with the chorigraphy and shots, and they don't quite pull it off. It's not bad by any means, it's honestly much better than other films. But it felt like they wanted to take it further, and I wish they had. One of the first scenes has a a camera flowing and following the Simon(Ron Yuan), main bad guy, as he walks from his car to inside the club, and it's almost one long take, but then there are a few cuts here and there. And with the cuts and the clunky following, it doesn't feel like it's on purpose, it feels like they wanted to do a long take and they didn't quite know how. Still, it's a great effort, and it should be applauded for trying something different.

The performances are...not bad. They range from not horrible to pretty good. Nothing really terrible, but also nothng really stands out.  Jason Yee does pretty alright in his role. He handles the voice-over, and some of it feels sleepy while the rest of it is ok.  His acting is not great, and as a noir character I almost wish they got someone with a moodier tone, but he is a really really good fighter, and I'm happy with an actor that has an ok voiceover but is an amazing fighter. It's hard to figure out which is bad writing and which is a lackluster performance. I liked Ron Yuan and Gary Stretch as bad guys. And Sasha Grey(should I know who or care who that is?) is barely in it. I don't know why they needed to put her on the box art, she's there for exactly one elevator ride.  And the soundtrack is pretty good too!

The Girl From the Naked Eye is not a perfect noir, but it is highly entertaining and a great effort. I wish it was better, but what it tries to do makes up for its faults. It's a pretty good kung-fu action noir that will surprise you as long as you're not expecting a full Hollywood production.

An alternate design for the poster 
THE GOOD: Great fighting, good story, has some nice graphic style, good noir, cool characters, diverse cast, some good writing.

THE BAD: Some bad writing, movie ends at a weird place, acting is not great, small production, some rape and violence against women.

THE VERDICT: $$$ Y'know, I would reccomend seeing it, especially if you love noir or kung-fu or both, but it's not so great that you need to see it. I wanted it to be 'great', and maybe if it had a more solid ending and slightly better dialogue, it would have been, but as it stands, it's 'pretty good'. But I enjoyed it, and it's a diverse, interesting kung-fu noir worth a look if you have the time.

MOVIES LIKE IT: Romeo Must Die, Kiss of the Dragon, Payback, Old Boy, A Bittersweet Life, Sin City

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Jake goes to see his boss Simon about finding out who killed Sandy. Simon is banging his girlfriend, who he has a weird relationship with. She insults him and he insults her back, and they sort of have this strange abusive relationship together. And it's a good scene proceeded and followed by some nice kung-fu, but the dialogue is really bad. "Fuck you!" "No Fuck you!" "No Fuck you!" all while they're fucking. No, writer person, that is not how you use fuck properly.

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