dvd review: EYE IN THE SKY

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There is no denying the tremendous impact Hong Kong filmmaking has had on American cinema, especially in the action and crime genres. The classic martial arts films that came out of Shaw Brothers Studios in the 1970s, as well as John Woo’s The Killer and Hard Boiled were seminal in changing the way films all over the world were made, and the influence of these films can be seen in everything from The Matrix to Kill Bill and beyond. Even The Departed, the film that finally earned Martin Scorsese his much-deserved Oscar, was a remake of the HK classic Infernal Affairs. But just as American filmmakers have taken much from Asian filmmakers, so to have Asian directors gleaned much from the Western contemporaries, which is evidenced by recent films like Nai-Hoi Yau’s Eye in the Sky.

What little story there is to be found in Eye in the Sky is pretty straightforward. Simon Yam stars as Wong, a veteran cop who leads the police department’s Surveillance Unit, a precision team that specializes in tracking criminals through spying. The newest member of Wong’s team is Ka-Po Ho (Kate Tsui), a rookie cop who is uncertain of her skills, but will prove pivotal in making the case against a gang of criminals led by the cold-blooded Shan (Tony Leung), whose identity remains a mystery to the police. After Shan and his crew pull off a daring heist, he becomes the main target of Wong and the SU, but they don’t have much to go on, since they don’t know who they are hunting. Slowly but surely, Wong, Ho and the rest of the Surveillance Unit begin to build their case, but Shan is not the average criminal, and he is able to stay one step ahead of the cops.

Fans of the fast-paced, over-the-top action that has come to define much of Hong Kong cinema may be disappointed by Eye in the Sky, which is not much more than a police procedural thriller. The story moves at a quick pace—thanks in part to the editing of David Richardson—and the film maintains a feeling of tension; but it is more like episodes of shows like CSI or The Wire than it is like the films of John Woo or Ringo Lam. In fact, Yau’s storytelling seems to be more informed by contemporary American cop shows than anything else, which is not a bad thing.

The cast all give solid performances, especially Yam, but the script never really bothers to flesh out the characters with any depth, making Eye in the Sky a what-you-see-is-what-you-get type of film, rather than some sort of character study like The Conversation. Still, the characters are likeable enough, and the script by director Yau and co-writer Kin Yee Au is effectively entertaining.

The problem with Eye in the Sky is that even though it is a well-made film that entertains from start to finish; it doesn’t resonate much after you’re done watching it. It is the sort of film that keeps you distracted while you’re watching it, but once it is over, you don’t give it much thought. And again, this is not a bad thing, but at the same time it does not make for a classic.

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