This indie production constitutes a quite successful attempt to transfer the gritty, violent crime thriller genre from seedy old pulp magazines onto the screen in an updated version. It takes place in the criminal underworld of a big city, where the night club owners have lucrative side businesses like prostitution and gun running. One of these is Simon (played by Ron Yuan, who is also the action director). Our main character, Jake (Jason Yee in his first role), owes a guy a hundred thousand dollars, and he tries earning the money by being the driver for Simon’s girls as they visit their clients. Jake is very good at his job, being a very capable martial artist who can use his fists to solve most of the problems that arise in this line of work. One of the girls Jake drives around is Sandy, and the two develop feelings for each other. At the start of the movie, Sandy is gunned down in her own apartment, and the story is partly told in flashbacks. Jake – a strong, silent type – goes on a rampage to find out who murdered her, using kung fu in close quarters and guns at a distance. The people who try to stop him, from henchmen to crooked cops, drop like flies. As the tale unfolds, we learn more and more about his and Sandy’s relationship, revealing several interesting developments.
The story works well, although bits and pieces of the plot seem to be missing. It is never clear who the guy was that Jake owes the money to (a crime boss of some sort, I assume), and the identity of the murderer, while logical, was not in my opinion woven well enough into the overall story. All this, however, is made up for by quite excellent and thoughtful dialogue, especially between Jake and Sandy. The poem which – a bit pretentiously – is recited in the trailer also makes a lot of sense in the story. While the movie starts a bit slowly, it begins to grow on you more and more as it proceeds. I personally felt the profanity was a bit overdone (and not exactly true to the pulp origins of this type of story), but I guess it is realistic enough for the seedy modern-day setting.
The action and the fighting are some of the most impressive bits in the movie. Ron Yuan (Drive, Cradle 2 the Grave, Fast & Furious 4) was onboard to provide the action directing and choreography, and it certainly shows that he has trained with the Hong Kong luminaries of the kung fu scene. Jason Yee does very well for himself as a highly proficient fighter. You don’t see a lot of noir kung fu pulp fiction thrillers, so this movie emphatically accomplishes what it sets out to do, and being very original in the process.
It is also one of the few American movies with a predominantly Asian-American cast. Only the female lead and the major bad guy (Gary Stretch), and a couple of bit parts (incl. a walk-on by blonde Dominique Swain), are played by white folks, and there are some other ethnicities in there as well. It feels quite natural; for all we know the story may take place partly in San Francisco’s Chinatown or wherever. Of course, by featuring martial arts the movie does sort of play up to an Asian stereotype, but, hey, that’s one of the things action audiences love! To those of us who watch loads of kung fu movies, there is something deeply nonsensical about Asian people who don’t know kung fu… and with that I may have just offended a billion people or so. Well, don’t blame me; blame the Shaw Brothers. 🙂
The Girl from the Naked Eye is released in US cinemas 1st July 2011, it does not yet have a UK release date.
Director: David Ren
Action director: Ron Yuan
Cast: Jason Yee, Samantha Streets, Ron Yuan, Gary Stretch and others
Runtime: 85 min