Most independent filmmakers know their place in the world of cinema, and that’s comedy/dramas about uninteresting and aimless twenty-somethings. I kid. But the point is a lack of a real budget precludes the option of spectacle and name stars. Most indies stick with drama and comedy because both can be accomplished with little more than actors, a location and a script. Genre films by contrast, including action, science fiction and fantasy, are usually far out of reach of the independents.
But there’s a lot to be said for ambition, persistence and talent.
Jake (Jason Yee) works as a security guard/driver for strippers performing escort services out of The Naked Eye club. When he discovers one of the dancers murdered on his living room floor he sets out to find the man responsible and will stop at nothing until he does. Flashbacks of Jake’s introduction to and time spent with Sandy (Samantha Streets) build an emotional backstory alongside his present day search for her killer. He cuts a bloody swath through the city and leaves a trail of broken bodies, cigarette butts and wise ass comments in his wake.
“Fuck. That wasn’t supposed to happen.”
Jake is struggling beneath a million dollar gambling debt and flashbacks reveal his concern for the “whores” he’s transporting extends only as far as they paycheck he gets at the end of the week. His cold indifference gets a wake up call though as he finds himself growing closer to Sandy. She has a fresh face, an indomitable spirit and a heart of gold unique among prostitutes in the first three months of their employment. Jake’s older, colder and swears like a motherfucker, but these two opposites hit it off just in time for tragedy to sever what could have been. (It wouldn’t have been anyway, but that’s neither here nor there.)
There’s nothing fresh in the story here, but Yee and co-writers Larry Madill and David Ren (who also directed) never really intended there to be. The movie opens and closes within the pages of an old pulp magazine, and the script’s simplicity fits those pages as designed. A beautiful innocent wronged, a rogues gallery of pimps, gangsters, and corrupt police officers, and an anti-hero who narrates it all through a cigarette smoke haze are the necessary basics for a pulpy noir, and the film gets an impressive amount of it right on its limited budget.
The real draw here though is what it adds to the already established formula. Yee is a martial artist, as presumably are several of the nameless henchmen he gets to fight here. There’s still some gun-play for purists, but fight fans will find a lot to enjoy here as Yee punches, kicks, chokes and breaks his opponents. It won’t make a highlight reel of best fights, but it’s fun and impressive enough. The filmmakers are clearly fans of Park Chan-wook‘s Old Boy too as one of the highlights here is a hallway fight shot in the style of that film’s famous one vs twenty scene. It’s set to Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” and is both a fine homage and a pretty great fight in its own right.
Some of the action does lag though, and this is where budget clearly became a concern, as sequences in part or in whole play out at three quarter speed with the participants clearly not comfortable (or skillful) enough to fight full tilt. The choreography behind the brawls becomes transparent at that point and underwhelms considerably.
For all its grit and action, the movie does include a little bit of heart and a surprising sense of humor. Jake offers up some of the laughs, but most of them come courtesy of Simon (Ron Yuan, who also serves as the film’s fight choreographer). Pimp, strip club owner, and comic relief, Simon is a smart ass who values three things… money, a strong work ethic and animal crackers.
The Girl from the Naked Eye is a million dollar movie that could easily pass for five, and if that sounds like a back-handed compliment it’s intentional. Ren has crafted an impressive little film, but it’s with the caveat of being impressive for the money. It looks good, especially the interior scenes, but the outside world is largely absent. Genre fans should definitely seek it out (especially if you have the chance to catch it on the big screen), but the best thing to come from the film is a desire to see what Ren and friends do next… hopefully with an even bigger budget.
The Upside: Solid fight scenes for an indie; Jason Yee does a good job as the straight-faced hero; Old Boy tribute scene; Ron Yuan
The Downside: Parts of fights occasionally appear too slow and clearly choreographed; some questionable acting; story does nothing new; some animated blood; too many fake boobs
On the Side: Sasha Grey and Dominique Swain appear briefly. Too briefly.
The Girl from the Naked Eye opens in limited theatrical release on June 15th