From the very first second of Eye Of The Storm, the urgency is felt. A doctor trying to get out of the hospital earlier than he actually should just to be with his daughter on her birthday is an interesting opening scene to have. While you can’t help but appreciate the man’s love for his little girl, you can’t also root for him as he clearly neglects one of his patients in order to get out of work early. In a world that has experienced a full-blown pandemic for almost two years, this movie actually feels very relevant. And it is made in such a way that the audience actually feels the anxiety throughout the runtime. Especially the opening half hour is particularly designed in a way that you get drawn inside the world of it and feel exactly how the characters are feeling—anxious, confused, and panicked.
Although the SARS outbreak in Taiwan in 2003 was much smaller in terms of impact, especially when you compare it with the COVID-19 pandemic, the people who were at the center of it still suffered. They went through the same kind of hell that many of us went through almost two decades later. It is admirable how these movies keep fleshing out human characters stuck in dire situations and making the audience care about them. Because when you are watching a movie about a topic like this, that becomes the whole point.
Structurally, Eye Of The Storm is not something that you haven’t seen before. In fact, a lot of it should remind you of the OG movie of this genre, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, which was released back in 2011. Although it was marketed as a medical disaster film back in its time, the relevance of the film obviously skyrocketed when the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, nine years after its release.
In many ways, Eye Of The Storm mirrors Contagion, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Just like Contagion, it starts with a seemingly normal day at the Taipei City Hospital. News about a potential SARS outbreak is floating around, and nobody, including the hospital workers, seems to take it that seriously. This is particularly familiar because many of us also didn’t take the initial warning about COVID that seriously in its early days. It is very common human behavior to believe that nothing bad is going to happen to us. Our brains work that way, and the characters we see in these kinds of movies are regular human beings like us. That is why watching something like Eye Of The Storm often becomes a difficult experience, as you know for a fact that no matter what the characters think, things are going to get much worse than they can anticipate. And they have to go through the worst possible time of their lives.
Eye Of The Storm does exceedingly well in this department. All the characters are well written and put together in a gripping narrative that gets to you in such a way that you feel an equal amount of horror as these characters. If you think about it, all these movies have similar kinds of stories. Yes, the setup might be different, as this one is entirely based inside the hospital, which sets it apart from Contagion, which had a larger-scale, global narrative. But the point is, the story always goes the same way. That is why the characters are always the main thing about the movie, because they are the ones who keep the narrative going.
Eye Of The Storm manages to create a very interesting conflict by almost pitting its two main characters against each other from an ideological standpoint. It’s not that the characters of Doctor Xia and Nurse Ang wage war against each other. In fact, they are both victims of the situation. Despite leaving the hospital early in the morning, Xia has to come back to do surgery on a trauma patient. And this time, he doesn’t get to leave the hospital as the authorities impose the lockdown. The character initially appears to be selfish and self-centered and ignores Nurse Ang, who repeatedly asks him to take care of a patient who is about to be discharged but is feeling some discomfort.
Xia claims that he has no responsibility over the matter and that Ang should take care of the situation. Ang calls him selfish, and from the standpoint of the audience, he comes off the same as well. Contrary to Xia, Ang appears to be much more heroic and likable. Irrespective of what the situation is, the nurse keeps helping people, often by going out of her way. He seems to genuinely care about the well-being of the patient he is attending to. His relationship with an elderly cancer patient, Mr. Lin, and his son make for a very interesting story arc. Ang is also shown to be someone who is planning to join a Doctors Without Borders program, which only adds more value to his already great character.
What I particularly found to be praiseworthy was that, instead of villainizing the character of Dr. Xia, the movie made us sympathize with his plight and what the character is going through. While Ang represents how human beings should ideally act in a dire situation, Dr. Xia represents the helplessness of a human being stuck in a difficult situation. That is why it was riveting to see Dr. Xia come around and finally emerge as a hero during the latter half of the movie. It only proves that there is goodness in every human being, after all. Xia and Ang are not the only characters who get all the focus in Eye Of The Storm. The taxi driver who drives Xia away from the hospital and then drives him back accidentally gets stuck inside while returning Xia’s back, eventually ending up taking care of a little girl. Doctor Lee, who is as selfless as Ang, keeps maintaining an uplifting, positive personality while making it a point to take care of people no matter what the situation is. A patient, cumbersome journalist who initially appears to be an opportunist emerges as a person who truly cares about people and sees his profession as public service. All these characters round off an ensemble that truly makes the movie what it is.
A fundamental question that some of you might ask would probably be, “Is Eye Of The Storm a great film?” The answer to that would be no. It is melodramatic, very in-your-face, and lacks the subtlety and technical greatness of Contagion. But Lin Chun Yang’s film would still work for you if you managed to care enough for the characters and their stories. That is the biggest triumph of this movie. Even the romance between Ang and Doctor Lee doesn’t feel forced or out of place. On the contrary, it actually elevates the narrative. Whether or not you should watch Eye Of The Storm depends on what you are looking for. That is basic for every film, but especially important for a film like this one. If you are up for some well-made melodrama and some real-world thrills, then you should give this one a try.