My Left Eye Sees Ghosts (2002)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-01-06
Summary: Sammi shines
“My Left Eye Sees Ghosts” has some very rich thematic content including the universal need to mourn the death of a loved one, the necessity to stop mourning at some point coupled with the realization that a person will never forget someone she really loved, essentially the impossibility of achieving what is glibly called “closure”. While it may seem that Johnny To’s romantic comedy is too slight a structure for such weighty imponderables such as love, death and the afterlife, it is held together by a consistently winning performance by Sammi Cheng. Cheng shows some excellent comic timing, especially in the scene in the garage with the ghost of Sam’s girlfriend. Cheng’s double takes, incredulous looks and outright amazement are excellent. She and the gorgeous Kelly Lin play off each other quite well in this scene.

We know from the very beginning that Cheng’s May Ho is the center of this film. It begins with a Christian funeral that includes a former girlfriend of the dead person attempting to throw herself into the grave. The audience finds out that the distraught woman is not who we think she is—the widow is much calmer and stands off to the side of the burial. She follows the Christian service with observances and rituals from the Buddhist service for the dead so it is clear that May is not in step with the rest of the mourners. Interestingly enough when the camera pulls back from the close-ups at the grave site to show May, it lifts and pans in such a way as to show some of the mourners standing in a pattern around her that seemed very familiar—not surprising, since it shows up, generally more obviously, in such To helmed works as “The Mission”, “The Longest Nite”, and (later on) “PTU”.

The Christian burial service sets up one of the conflicts that create the tension in the movie. Reincarnation is not part of Christian doctrine but is (I understand) essential to Buddhism. This is also what separates “MLESG” from Western movies which have ghosts hanging around such as “Ghost”, “Truly Madly Deeply”, and “Always”. Instead of the ghost of the dead person helping his loved one to deal with her loss and move on (while trying to keep her from falling for the wrong living guy) the Ken the ghost played by the Lau Ching-Wan has the job of helping may release her hold on her husband’s spirit so that he can be reincarnated.

While May seems to be an unlikable character at first—she admits to lying in order to convince her dead husband to marry her after only knowing her for a few days, she smokes too much, drinks much too much and even has the family dog euthanized—that she is played by Cheng signals that we should withhold judgment. Once May hits an abutment in her husband’s tank-like Mercedes and dies (only to come back to life when her ghost is scared back into her body by Ken) it is much easier to be on her side. What had seemed to proper scornfulness for her as a gold-digging tramp by her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and others now comes across as petty and churlish since she is not only in mourning but also is plagued by ghostly visions.

This is far from a perfect movie. Eliminating May’s father (Lam Suet at his leering, conniving best) and her step-siblings would have made it a strong and better structured story—there isn’t really a need for comic relief in a comedy, even one with as many melodramatically tearjerking moments as this one. Susan (the gorgeous Lee San-San) was essential to the plot but was also quite annoying after a while. Simon Yam’s character, Ben, veered from serious to whiny to extremely dull during his short time on the screen.

The usual conventions of the aftermath of the female star being badly injured were followed—while May had an arm and leg in casts, her hair and make-up remained perfect. This is to be expected and was not even in the same ridiculous league as a couple of others that come to mind. One was the recent remake of “The Manchurian Candidate”, in which Liev Schreiber is subjected to quicky neurosurgery. The surgery takes about 15 minutes from anesthesia to walking around feeling fine, with no bruising or other marking and with his hair still perfectly coiffed. Even worse was “Johnny Handsome”, in which Mickey Rourke had extensive corrective surgery on his deformed face and head over a period of weeks. The medical professionals taking care of him not only didn’t have to shave his head, they didn’t even have to wash his hair. Compared to howlers like these, May’s light bruising was appropriate for her life-threatening injuries. One piece of slapstick that worked, partially because it was very short, was the when the doctors operating on May decided that they should all move to the left: “Your left?” “My left?” “The patient’s left?”

Despite the occasional veering from comedy to bathos and back “My Left Eye Sees Ghosts” is an easy movie to like.
Reviewer Score: 7