Despite its tension-fueled setup and the real-life events the film is based on, Eye of the Storm fails to deliver a lasting blow. Set in a singular hospital as it deals with a SARS outbreak, the hospital staff and its inhabitants must deal with the tumultuous fallout. The Taiwanese medical thriller is relentless in depicting the horrors of the situation with some considerable talent in front of the camera but where it succeeds in atmosphere and performance, it lacks in interesting direction and resolution.
Edison Wang stars as Dr. Xia, a thoracic surgeon who, at the start of the film, is called back to treat an emergency patient. Frustrated by the delay, having been on the way to celebrate his daughter’s birthday, things only grow worse as the outbreak forces the hospital into a stormy lockdown. As nurses fearing for their lives throw their scrubs out windows, and surgeons, nurses, and other staff lock themselves in facility break rooms to protest the forced contamination, the already dire situation becomes increasingly grim. Dr. Xia himself is at odds with the typical role of a hero, the first to ask to be extracted at the earliest chance.
Directed by Lin Chun-Yang, Eye of the Storm refuses to pull punches, delivering imagery that is haunting not just due to how it relates to the ongoing film and the real events that inspired it, but due to our own current personal connections. Still dealing with COVID-19, we’re hardly removed from the mayhem that the virus caused, especially in the early days. The scenes of shadowy hospital halls, bags stuffed to the brim with disrobed scrubs, masks, and other hazmat suits, and the frenzied scrubbing as nurses desperately tried to disinfect themselves after being exposed, hit raw nerves. That said, even the most haunting imagery, such as a little girl with her oversized, pink backpack, calling desperately through the doors for her mother, is hampered due to a reliance on slow-motion, shaky cam.
It’s partially why for all of its realism and gripping pace that mimics the real-time, mounting dread of realizing that this virus they’re facing may not be containable at all, that Eye of the Storm can’t manage to amount more than the sum of its parts. The medical drama’s penchant for up close, grizzly, scenes of surgery creates some of the most startling moments, especially due to the use of excessive sound effects so that even the less squeamish aren’t able to truly avoid the mess.
Despite the moral ambiguity that follows these characters as they try their best to overcome impossible odds, the strongest moments and the characters with the most natural pull are the ones who exude genuine kindness. Yung-Cheng Chang as taxi driver Jiang Guy Rong is one example, an innocent bystander caught in the hospital during the outbreak. While he isn’t given the same level of focus in a supporting role, the character’s absolute diligence in making sure the aforementioned young girl is cared for and looked after while no one else acknowledges her is a beacon of hope. He continually mentions that before doing anything else, she must “protect herself” and it’s a line that speaks to the film in general, as medical professionals equip themselves to be able to help others.
And while Wang is sturdy and, eventually, noble, in his role it’s Tseng Jing Hua’s An Tai He who leaves a great impression. This is due to him being given the more tragically heroic archetype to work with, the bright-eyed newcomer who still seeks justice in his profession, unable to understand why anyone might not be able to put their patients first. But it’s a lovely, charismatic turn, one that suggests another film with him as the main center may have helped bolster the material.
At two hours, there’s simply too much going on to result in a satisfying ending. Subplots of where and who the source of the outbreak come from are handled but deliver no real emotional impact, while side plots such as a journalist documenting the events are intriguing but lead nowhere. The ambiguity of the ending in terms of where these characters end up is especially frustrating. Not every film needs a clear-cut ending. But in the case of Eye of the Storm, the effect is less ambitious and more like they couldn’t figure out a way to end it so just shut the door on the characters and whatever came after for them.
Eye of the Storm is stylish and focuses on undoubtedly gripping material. That said, despite the inherent intrigue and stress that comes with watching it, the film is hollow and vacant. We might come to enjoy watching a few of these characters as they make impossible decisions but we’re never given reason to become attached, especially as the details of their personal lives and aspects that might make them more personality-driven are thrown out asides, rather than character-building attributes. It’s just fine. But with a story such as this, poised with this kind of naturally embedded tension and anxiety, it could’ve been more.
Eye of the Storm is available now to stream on Netflix.
Eye of the Storm
Eye of the Storm is stylish and focuses on undoubtedly gripping material. That said, despite the inherent intrigue and stress that comes with watching it, the film is hollow and vacant.