A bizarre but not altogether unsuccessful cross between an action comedy and a pulp detective story that’s a competent, entertaining film – good looking, decently cast, nicely performed, and amusingly written.
The Girl from the Naked Eye is a bizarre but not altogether unsuccessful cross between an action comedy and a pulp detective story. Of it duel personalities, the latter is made especially evident through amusing stylistic homages, not the least of which are bookending shots of a weathered hard crime novel opening and closing. We also have several glimpses of an anonymous city skyline bathed in perpetual moonlight, city lights reflected in wet streets, and numerous characters whose faces are constantly veiled in a fog of their own cigarette smoke. Most importantly, we have an ongoing interior monologue narration provided by the main character; he may not physically or chronologically be the archetype of the private eye, but he certainly has the cynical, hardboiled dialogue down to a tee.
His name is Jake (Jason Yee). When we first see him, he’s on his knees on the floor of a hotel room, tearfully clutching the bloody, lifeless body of a young woman, who we soon learn was named Sandy. Consumed with grief and anger, he goes on a citywide manhunt to find her killer. Sporadic flashback sequences give us some context. Jake, a heavy gambler, owed $100,000 to a mobster after losing his car in a poker game. In order to pay his debt, he took a job at The Naked Eye, a local strip club presided over by the lecherous Simon (Ron Yuan). Although officially a bouncer, Jake’s real job was to transport girls to and from the club for private liaisons with wealthy customers. This is how he met Sandy (Samantha Streets), a runaway who claimed she was “old enough” to know what she was doing.
I’m sure you can already see how this movie is in part supposed to work. Sandy and Jake, both loners stuck in a rut through a combination of bad decisions and rotten luck, found each other and were able to bond. Although they obviously felt a sexual attraction towards one another, their relationship can better be described as pseudo-father/daughter – or, at the very least, student/mentor. Jake genuinely cared for Sandy, and the more he got to know her, the more he tried to make her see that she could do so much better for herself. She was tough, in her own way, but she did not belong in the world of prostitution. The tragedy runs deeper than the fact that she ends up dead; even if she had lived, they each made life mistakes that were too costly for them to conceivably end up together. There are only so many roads one can learn to walk down.
You might think I’m trying to make a case for how compelling this movie is, but in fact, I’m merely exemplifying how effectively the filmmakers utilize noir-like conventions. It doesn’t matter if we believe these characters; what does matter is that we see and understand the mechanics of the genre. We must do the same thing for the action comedy side of the film’s personality, during which Jake gets into plenty of highly improbable shootouts and fistfights. Ron Yuan, who also worked behind the camera as the action director and stunt choreographer, stages several scenes that are violently fun, if a little too dependent on showy displays of martial arts. Even then, they’re prevented from inundating the visual landscape; we’re made to focus more on the tone than on the body slams.
As Jake digs deeper into the mystery of the dead prostitute, he must evade Sonny’s henchmen, a ragtag band of clueless thugs. Using Sonny’s little black book, he also crosses paths with several of Sandy’s clients, each of whom provides one piece of the puzzle. Meanwhile, Sonny has several meetings a corrupt cop named Frank (Gary Stretch), who Sonny regularly bribes in order to carry on with business. The prospect of Jake never getting his money is repeatedly thrown in his face, although I’m really not sure why; the film makes it quite clear, fairly early on, that Jake’s mission is strictly about justice for Sandy and has long since stopped being about money. It would be too much to say that this is a story of Jake’s redemption, although he certainly is much more decent at the end of the film than he was at the beginning.
In spite of the narrative and visual stylistic throwbacks to noir thrillers, including a final cigarette-lighting scene vaguely reminiscent of the last shot of Double Indemnity, The Girl from the Naked Eye is very much a contemporary film. This means that, in certain instances, it’s rather exploitative. There’s some graphic sexual content, including female toplessness, although it’s evident mainly in the dialogue, which contains so many four-letter words that even a sailor is liable to blush. Although its plot is not as engaging as it could have been given the genre influences, and while it’s not as technically fearless or innovative as films such as Sin City and The Spirit, this is a competent, entertaining film – good looking, decently cast, nicely performed, and amusingly written.