Title: The Girl From the Naked Eye
Director: David Ren
Starring: Jason Yee, Ron Yuan, Samantha Streets, Sasha Grey, Dominique Swain, Gary Stretch
A pulpy, low-budget slice of film noir cross-pollinated with a martial arts flick, the curiously titled “The Girl From the Naked Eye” will certainly win no awards for great originality, but nonetheless serves as a stylish and engaging little vehicle for the surly charms of star Jason Yee, as well as its filmmaking team. The sophomore effort of director David Ren (“Shanghai Kiss”), the movie is a case of style over substance, to be sure, but boy is that style impressive on what must have been a shoestring budget.
When a young Los Angeles escort, Sandy (Samantha Streets), is murdered, her protective and grief-stricken driver, Jake (Yee), confronts strip club owner Simon (Ron Yuan) about who might have been the culprit, as flashbacks fill in the story of their unusual friendship. Sensing that Simon isn’t telling him everything, Jake then starts dropping beatdowns left and right, cutting a swathe of retribution across the night. This leads him to Simon’s gun-dealing gangland benefactor, Frank (Gary Street), who also has the benefit of a police shield. Dominique Swain pops up in a small, flirty role, as does adult film star Sasha Grey (the lead in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience”); that they’re well integrated amongst all the fisticuffs is a further credit to Ren and his collaborators.
If the hardboiled plot description above inspires little more than a yawn, unabashed B-movie “The Girl From the Naked Eye” actually has a lot going for it. Shooting digitally (and almost entirely at night), Ren and cinematographer Max Da-Yung Wang concoct a rich, foreboding visual palette that doesn’t get lost in the murky darkness of the film’s noir-ish roots. And Ren — working with Yee on the choreography of the fight sequences — doesn’t overdo it on the spastic edits, gifting his movie the benefit of a real personality.
Still, the story here is thin, and propped up less by real characters and more by a referential love for its genre forerunners. Both in the name of its crusading protagonist and various tossed-off bits of dialogue (“You don’t know when to quit, do you Jake?”), “The Girl From the Naked Eye” echoes “Chinatown” and a dozen another miniaturized knock-offs. Story-wise, there aren’t reasonably enough obstacles to stretch this out to feature-length, even at a paltry 84 minutes that includes an extended closing credits crawl. Streets has a bouncy, vibrant charm not fully exploited; the movie would have benefited from more of a focus on Sandy’s relationship with Jake, even if it meant sacrificing a bit of knuckle-dusting.
All that said, those demerits almost all relate to sins of omission, and/or the movie’s DNA make-up. If it doesn’t live up to the wildness of Park Chan-Wook’s “Old Boy,” another obvious antecedent and inspiration, ”The Girl From the Naked Eye” at least makes good on its modest aims, allowing Yee to slap silly a bunch of would-be human roadblocks. There are moments of sly charm and connection here, making this polished movie a treat for fans of indie genre fare.
Written by: Brent Simon