When a hooker is murdered, her driver sets out to avenge her death in The Girl From The Naked Eye, the second feature from director David Ren, one that could easily be relabeled Sin City Lite. Set in a stylized noir metropolis—the intro suggests it’s an installment of a story in Dark Mystery Magazine—the film is all tough guys, cool dames, and hardboiled dialogue that hovers somewhere between genre homage and a parody. A woman at a bar snipping “If you don’t drink, then what good are you?” seems intended to be the former; here’s hoping the moment in which a newly maimed thug shrieks “Ow, my finger!” and the film’s hero snarls “My finger now!” is the latter.
Martial artist Jason Yee plays a gambler-turned-club-enforcer who befriends underage call girl Samantha Streets when he’s assigned to take her to appointments. She’s seen only in flashbacks, as at the outset, she’s been shot; Yee spends the film looking for her killer among her clients and coworkers, a meander through brothels and nightclubs that leads to shootouts, brawls, and some gratuitous boob shots. Yee isn’t about to win medals at the charisma Olympics, but he can navigate an action sequence and smoke a moody cigarette, and the scenes that suffer are mainly the ones where he and Streets, who’s meant to be angelic and in need of being saved, bond over their pasts and poetry. Gary Stretch plays a corrupt cop, while Lolita’s Dominique Swain and former porn star Sasha Grey make brief appearances that feel wedged in just to have their names on the cast list.
Given the limited budget, The Girl From The Naked Eye actually mimics the look of the Frank Miller-created cityscape that it rips off with surprising ingenuity. It’s less successful when turning to other sources: A fight that’s essentially lifted wholesale from Oldboy comes across as clumsy and out of place. What’s most interesting about the film has to do with casting rather than substance. It revisits classic movie tropes with Asian-American actors in most of the lead (male, at least) roles, without that being essential to the plot, or commented on by anyone onscreen. It’s an intriguing cultural twist, but too bad the film itself is so derivative, it could have been assembled from Robert Rodriguez’s discard bin.