Back from buying a giant cage at the pet store, I’m ready to share some thoughts on EYE IN THE SKY.
EYE IN THE SKY
Cantonese: Gun chung
Mandarin: Gen zong
English: Following The Tracks
Official Site: http://www.eyeinthesky.com.hk/
Director: Yau Nai-Hoi
Cast: Simon Yam Tat-Wah (Dog Head), Tony Leung Ka-Fai (Shan), Kate Tsui Tsz-Shan (Piggy), Lam Suet (Fatman), Maggie Shiu Mei-Kei (SU Chief)
Synopsis (from Yahoo! Movies Singapore): Surveillance Unit (”SU”) is one of the most secretive branches of Hong Kong Police. Its field agents use unassuming appearance and covert operations to conduct surveillance on targets like an “eye-in-the-sky”. What they watch becomes crucial intelligence leading to the arrest of criminals. SU unit leader Dog Head (Simon Yam) receives an order to seek out suspects of a highly publicized jewelry heist. Rookie agent Piggy (Kate Tsui) and her teammates conduct extensive stakeout looking for the elusive target. What they don’t know is heist mastermind Shan (Tony Leung) knows too well to shake off the police. On the busy streets of Hong Kong, a game of hide-and-seek ensues…
PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: Not too many since the film didn’t even pop up on my radar until November 2007 when I started the process of rehabilitating my HK entertainment database. Even then, the words “eye in the sky” didn’t make me think about Milkyway, Simon Yam and Tony Leung Ka-Fai, it made me think: “I am the eye in the sky, lookin’ at yoooouuu, I can read your mind …”. In fact, I actually went through some boxes looking for a mix tape I had from the early-1980s that had “Eye in The Sky” on it. This gave me a chance to relive childhood memories since the tape also contained — in glorious monaural sound — such ’80s era oldies as: “Love is a Battlefield”, “Cum On Feel The Noize”, “99 Red Balloons” (both English and German versions), “Gloria”, “Hold Me Now”, “Abracadara” and “Who Can It Be Now?”. Man, I’m old.
Reminiscences of days past aside, EYE IN THE SKY is a Milkyway production starring two veteran actors so I’m anticipating a good movie. The only wild card is Kate Tsui Tsz-Shan. When I saw her name in the cast list for the film, my initial reaction was “one of the Cookies/Mini-Cookies is in a Milkyway film?”. Then, I remembered that she was the winner of the second last Miss Hong Kong Pageant, 2004, I covered on my old site. All I recall from that year was that Kate Tsui was sort of an unexpected winner and that Devily Leung Lai-Yan (contestant #11) had a cool English name. After doing some research on the Internet, I’m not expecting much out of Miss Tsui. The prevailing opinion on her acting out there in the discussion forums — both English and Chinese — goes like this: “She is not that pretty and her acting is soooo fake. I don’t know if she can improve. I don’t even know how she won Miss HK.” Ouch.
AFTER THE MOVIE: Despite a couple of dubious plot points and one cheestastic scene near the end of the movie, EYE IN THE SKY is solid entertainment and another quality addition to the renowned Milkyway body of work. Some may argue that the flaws in the last thirty minutes of the film tarnishes what happens in the thoroughly engrossing first sixty minutes but the flaws are not fatal. Moreover, by the time the questionable sequences appear, the film has built enough momentum to carry through to the end the suspension of disbelief for most viewers.
MORE THOUGHTS (WARNING: contains spoilers): On the grand scale of far fetched movie contrivances, the convergence of the Shan plot line and the gambling debt guy plot line tends toward the “it could happen” end of the scale rather than the “totally preposterous” end. After all, Hong Kong crams seven million people into an area of only 1,104 square kilometres — that works out to 6,420 people per square kilometre. By comparison, Los Angeles has a population density of 3,077 people per square kilometre. Therefore, it’s not totally inconceivable that Piggy could spot Shan while on the trail of the gambling debt guy turned kidnapper.
Besides, the momentum and goodwill generated by the finely-tuned and captivating storytelling in the first two-thirds of the movie should earn it enough slack to sustain its “cinematic illusion” for all but the most nitpicky of viewers. Never underestimate the power of momentum and goodwill. It can even carry through from movie to movie. The goodwill generated by Wong Kar-Wai in CHUNGKING EXPRESS and IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE sustained me through the messy ASHES OF TIME and the ostentatious 2046 respectively. The momentum of A BETTER TOMORROW not only got me to buy that Mark had a twin brother named Ken in A BETTER TOMORROW II, it even got me to swallow that goofy “eat my rice” sequence.
While the plot contrivances pose no great obstacle to EYE IN THE SKY’s momentum, there is one cheesy scene near the end that may provoke momentum-killing groans from some viewers. The sequence starts at around 1:19:00. Dog Head has his carotid artery slashed by Shan and everyone back at SU headquarters is exhorting him to tell a story because they don’t want him to fade out and die. When Dog Head falls silent, Piggy loses track of Shan, starts crying and collapses on the street in the pouring rain. Then, Dog Head suddenly resumes his story, the rain stops, the sky clears, Piggy gets up from off her knees and spots Shan just ahead. The sequence — complete with twangy music signaling poignancy à la FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (the movie not the television series) — is so heavy-handed and corny the only way it could be more cheesy is if everything went into slow-motion and Jimmy Cliff started singing: “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone …”.
Not only is the sequence wildly melodramatic, it isn’t true to the logic of the film. Are you telling me that Shan — heretofore shown to be careful, precise and a little paranoid — was steps ahead of Piggy but did not notice her fall to her knees and cry “TAAAALK!!!” into her microphone like William Shatner yelled “KHAAAAAN!!!” in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN?
Shatneresque-level of cheese notwithstanding, the rest of EYE IN THE SKY has laid a solid foundation that is strong enough to withstand the blow from the kitschy scene. The way it shows the nuts-and-bolts operation of the Surveillance Unit and its cat-and-mouse pursuit of Shan and his henchmen is riveting. Like Spock in STAR TREK II, I will invoke logic and say that the good of the many scenes in the first two-thirds of EYE IN THE SKY outweighs the bad of the few plot contrivances in the last third and the one cheesy climactic scene.
-It may be because my expectations were lowered by the drubbing she takes on the discussion boards but I was very impressed with Kate Tsui’s performance. In stark contrast to all the chatter about how she overacts, I found Tsui very measured and very restrained. She hits the right notes in the right spots be it inexperience, fatigue or controlled fear. Her performance as an inexperienced rookie is so convincing, I was a bit taken aback by how sophisticated and cool she appeared in the “piggy has been become a hunting doggy” scene at the end. Since there seem to be no babies to nominate this year, I fully expect Kate Tsui to get a Best New Artist nomination for the upcoming 27th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards.
- If my local Chinese video store hadn’t gone out of business while I was ill, I would have run out and rented LA FEMME DESPERADO or STEPS to see if the criticism Kate Tsui receives for her TVB work is justified. As it is, I have to settle for the DVD of CONTRACT LOVER to see how she handles herself in a different genre.
- Kate Tsui’s performance also got me thinking about past actresses from the “Miss Hong Kong School” (香港小姐派) and wondering if any one else who emerged from the Miss Hong Kong Pageant could have done as well in EYE THE SKY. Specifically, I’m trying to think if any other beauty contestant-turned-actress could have given a similar or better performance two years or so into their careers. This rules out anyone from the 2005, 2006 and 2007 pageants since it’s too early to tell about them. I don’t think any of Sonija Kwok Sin-Lei (1999), Myolie Wu Hung-Yi (1999), Anne Heung Hoi-Lan (1998), Bernice Liu Bik-Yi (Miss Chinese International 2001), Michelle Ye (Miss Chinese International 1997) or Charmaine Sheh Si-Man (1997) could have done this at a similar point in their careers so we have to go back to pre-1995.
Kenix Kwok Ho-Ying (1993)? Maggie Cheung Ho-Yee (1994)? As much as it pains me to say, I don’t think either of these ladies could have been convincing as an inexperienced rookie.
Valerie Chow Ka-Ling (1991)? Anita Yuen Wing-Yi (1990)? Maybe. I hate to admit this but my memory is so fuzzy on Anita Yuen’s early career, I can’t say if she had any real skills around the 1992/1993 period.
Ada Choi Siu-Fan (1991)? Michelle Reis (Lee Ka-Yan, 1988)? Elizabeth Lee Mei-Fung (1987)? Too hot to be believable as a dopey, inexperienced “piggy”.
Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching (1987)? Uh, no. Maybe EROTIC EYE IN THE SKY …
Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk (1984)? With all due respect to the actress she has become, she was doing nothing but “flower vase” roles in her early film career and her work in the first POLICE CADET was raw so I’m not sure she could have pulled it off. Although, you never know. Different time, different era so it’s hard to say.
Barbara Yung Mei-Ling (1982)? After watching the first twenty episodes of LEGEND OF THE CONDOR HEROES (1983), I don’t think she had the chops for a precise, dramatic performance.
Olivia Cheng Man-Nga (1979)? Angie Chiu Nga-Chi (1973)? Maybe. I remember being impressed by their work when I saw their TV series as a kid but what does someone who just learned the multiplication table know about acting? Anyway, as with Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk — different time, different era so hard to say.
Good God, I went all the way back to 1973. I feel like the HK entertainment circle equivalent of Dr. Z — talking about 70s era actresses in a review of a 2007 film is exactly like talking about Weeb Ewbank and Joe Namath in the era of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Man, I’m old.
- Speaking of being old, I was going to go on an Abe Simpson-like old guy rant on the absurdity of Kate Tsui being forced to apologize for talking about sex on a public radio information programme. However, this post is already too long so I’ll close the Kate Tsui portion with this thought: Is it just me or, in the picture below, does Kate Tsui have a look on her face that suggests: “Give me any guff and I’ll turn this sceptre into a suppository”?
- I was disappointed but not surprised to learn that EYE IN THE SKY did poorly at the HK box office (earning just a little over HK$4 million during its run). In many ways, it reminds me of the early Milkyway films like WHERE A GOOD MAN GOES and EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED. If I recall correctly, those movies did not fare well at the box office either. Instead, they found their audience on home video and, I suspect, this is where most people will discover EYE IN THE SKY. I used to keep a spreadsheet of HK box office figures going back to when I started doing translations in the late-1990s so I would have backed up this argument with hard numbers. Alas, I lost the file in the Great Hard Drive Crash of 2007. I’m confident, however, that Milkway’s first box office hit was RUNNING OUT OF TIME and that all its movies before then didn’t break HK$10 million. If any one has the old numbers, it’d be great if I could find out whether or not my memory is faulty.
Public Service Announcement Time: Kids, always back up your data on a regular basis. You never know when a hard drive failure will occur.
- I think EYE IN THE SKY is a good candidate for a Hollywood remake. The material should translate to Western audiences better than THE MISSION or EXILED. I’m just not sure if any American city has the density of camera surveillance or octopus card technology to support the plot. Maybe it’d have to be set in London. Anyway, the advantage an EYE IN THE SKY remake will have is that you can draw an audience by casting a compelling hot babe to play Piggy. There’s no compelling hot babe role in either THE MISSION or EXILED.
- I was heartened to see that Maggie Siu Mei-Kei (aka Maggie Shiu) got a Golden Horse nomination for her role as the SU head. She always does so much with the smallest of roles be it a foul-mouthed superior in this film, a triad wife in ELECTION or a nervous PTU cop in PTU. It’s a shame that some casual HK entertainment fans still think of her as “the girl Ekin Cheng Yi-Kin dumped for Gigi Leung Wing-Kei”.
- Maybe he’s just too good-looking but the twenty pounds Simon Yam gained to play “wolf in schlub’s clothing” Dog Head didn’t make him convincing as a schlub. The bad fat-pack they strapped to his gut didn’t help much either. They should have gone with the body-suit technology used in LOVE ON A DIET or RUNNING ON KARMA or, better yet, abandon the whole fat idea and just gone with wardrobe and Simon Yam’s acting. The way it ended up being done is very distracting.
TANGENTIALLY SPEAKING: While we’re on the subject of films that had a questionable ending but a great opening and middle, I saw NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN recently and came away disappointed. What the heck kind of ending was that? It’s like if SEVEN SAMURAI kept the buildup and the opening skirmishes between the reinforced village and the bandits but then skipped to Kambei Shimada and Shichiroji talking about how the farmers won and the samurai lost. Wholly unsatisfying. People I’ve spoken to who claim to like the ending always seem to have talked themselves into liking it. I have yet to hear from anyone who viscerally liked that ending when the credits started rolling. It’s always “well I thought about it for a bit and …”.
HAPPY, HAPPY: Happy 32nd birthday, tomorrow, to my ex-entertainment circle girlfriend Ruby Lin (Lam Sum-Yu). I wonder what she’s up to these days. Also, happy 37th birthday to Fann Wong.
IMAGE CREDITS: TVB (Kate Tsui), Cinema City Film Productions (Chow Yun-Fat in A BETTER TOMORROW II), Milky Way Image Company (EYE IN THE SKY screen grabs), Paramount Pictures (William Shatner in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN), TVB by way of Miss HK Beauty (Kate Tsui), Toho Company (SEVEN SAMURAI screen grab)