As vanity projects go, The Girl from the Naked Eye is pretty first-rate. It was conceived and co-written by actor/fighter Jason Yee, the mastermind behind a 2007 flick called Dark Assassin, and seems to be a showcase for Yee to exhibit his rather impressive fighting skills. The fight choreography in this film, while downright sparse when compared to most kung-fu films, is done with a deft hand. There is even a one-shot wonder in this film wherein our hero fights his way down a hallway of thugs, getting increasingly tired as he goes. I like fight scenes where you can see the actors getting visibly exhausted. It adds so much weight and realism. Sure, the shot is stolen wholesale from 2003’s Oldboy, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t impressive a second time.
The Girl from the Nakedeye opens with the cover of a pulp novel, so we know we’re deep into cartoonish noir territory. The criminals are all extra horrible, the women are either vamps or innocents, and the free use of the f-word becomes freshly ubiquitous. It’s a murder mystery, and the solutions may be obvious, but I would argue that predictability can be charming in a noir story if it’s stylish enough. Naked Eye is about stylish enough to be charming, but not so stylish that it enters into the realm of Sin City cartoonishness. Our hero, Jake (Yee), we learn in flashback, is a hard-smoking street tough who is $100,000 in debt to a shady mob boss. To make money, he’s taken a job as a driver for a high-powered pimp named Simon (Ronny Yuan, the film’s fight choreographer) who sleeps with his girls, and comically sputters curses. Jake’s job is to drive expensive escorts to their johns, and make sure they get paid. Jake’s primary charge is a young lady named Sandy (Samantha Streets) a teenage runaway whose innocence and purity will melt Jake’s tough exterior. At the film’s outset, Sandy is dead, and Jake plays detective to find her murderer.
Jake’s investigation isn’t terribly complicated, and the only real detective insight comes from a random bar-dwelling hooker played by Dominique Swain. That there are so few central players to the mystery, it’ll be easy to figure out who the killer is. The bulk of the film is devoted to tragic monologues and that particular noir patois that fans of the genre could probably recite back. I’m glad to say that it only occasionally feels tiresome and clichéd. Most of the time, Naked Eye uses its style and small piece of humor to keep itself afloat. Humor? Well, this film’s version of humor is a three-way fight between Jake, Simon, and Simon’s topless floozy. Well, it’s not really a fight. The three of them essentially take turns punching each other in the face. Like the fighting, the Stooges-like timing of this scene is impeccable.
One of the first things you may notice about the DVD box of this film is that Sasha Grey, erstwhile porn star, is credited third, and takes up a good deal of the photograph. Grey does appear in one scene, has only two or three lines of dialogue, and does not do or say anything that is essential to the plot or to the tone of the film. She is an afterthought. If you’re looking for a film where Sasha Grey plays the smoky noir villainess, you will be sorely disappointed.
Sadly, I have little else to say about The Girl from the Naked Eye. It’s a pretty good little noir with excellent fighting and the usual story. I liked the tone, I liked the photography, and I liked the characters. The pace is a little maddening, but the film is ultimately efficient. I prefer my films to have less brooding in them, but brooding is par for the course in noir stories about tragic teens losing their lives to the seedy underworld of prostitution. You could do much, much worse. Here’s something kind of cool: The men in this film are all, almost without exception, Asian-American guys. Director David Ren makes no mention of this. I admire that sort of color-blindness.
The DVD has literally no extra features, other than a 5.1 audio track and subtitles, and those come standard these days. Sorry commentary fans. No comment on that cool hallway fight.