Story: It is the year 2003. Dr. Xia (Wang Po-Chieh) is a surgeon and wants to get out of the hospital as soon as possible in order to celebrate his daughter's birthday. He is already sitting in a taxi when he gets a call that an emergency has arrived. Back in the hospital he completes the surgery, and then notices a reporter (Hsueh Shih-ling) who is an old acquaintance of his. Since he has just written an article about the new SARS virus, he asks him why he is here. Shortly afterwards, the police close off the hospital and imposes a lockdown on everyone in the building. None of the doctors and nurses know what is really going on, and they are waiting for instructions from higher ups because no one knows anything about any SARS-infected people in the hospital. The nurse Tai-he (Tseng Jing-Hua) tries to figure out what is going on for his patients, but he too, only hears from the news that there are several infected people in their hospital and that they are all stuck in there for an indefinite period of time. Only gradually do they find out who is sick and isolate those patients in another hospital wing. But soon some of the hospital's staff refuses to accept the fact that they are locked up with the sick people and on top of that have to work nonstop. In the meantime, Dr. Xia and the reporter try to find out who was patient 0 in the hospital so that they can trace the chain of infection...
Review: It's actually the perfect time to make a movie about the SARS pandemic of 2002-2004. Before, no one was really interested in seeing what happened mainly in Asia (even though the virus soon spread to all continents), perhaps because "only" 774 people died. Of course, this was due to the fact that the virus was deadlier than COVID-19 and therefore could not spread as easily (seriously ill people just can't get out of bed and spread the virus that easily). At the same time, "Eye of the Storm" also shows that those figures have to be treated with caution, because there were no tests for SARS and, especially at the beginning, SARS deaths were not documented at all. Asymptomatic or mildly ill patients were barely documented either. The makers of "Eye of the Storm" were probably also aware of how complex science is (especially when the availability and analysis of data is that poor), which is why the movie takes place in the microcosm of a hospital and mainly focuses on the sacrifices made by the hospital staff.
We are immediately able to feel the looming disaster in the movie, because even though all that Dr. Xia wants is to get out of the hospital and celebrate his daughter's birthday, he is constantly held up. The stress and the emergencies that come in create an ominous mood that something even worse might happen at any moment. Due to the lack of information when the lockdown occurs, the panic is just palpable, and since COVID-19 (at the latest), we all know how irrational people can act in the face of an unclear situation. So, the question is who will go crazy, who will get violent or in what other way people will act out their panic. "Eye of the Storm" is quite gripping at the beginning and immediately manages to captivate the viewer. Unfortunately, after that not much happens... Suddenly, the pace drops, and the characters push themselves more into the focus. So, the big problem of this disaster flick is the change in tone, which only gets stronger towards the end and even gets melodramatic touches.
While there were movies about deadly viruses before COVID-19, such as "The Flu", which was of course a bit more action-packed, Taiwan already covered the psychological impact of lockdowns during COVID-19 in 2021 with "The Falls". "Eye of the Storm" is taking a similarly slow-paced approach, but you just don't expect that after the gripping first third of the movie. Dr. Xia also tries to find patient zero on his own - which is not that easy, since SARS deaths were not identifiable as such just based on the files - in order to separate the potentially infected and healthy people more effectively, so that he could finally be able to go home. But that's not really exciting, especially since we find out later that investigations are also going on in the background, and Dr. Xia's research doesn't really contribute much to the plot. Instead, the story starts revolving more and more around the characters.
Surprisingly, the individuals are not badly written at all. Dr. Xia seems pretty selfish at first, sometimes even a little anxious, but of course he undergoes a transformation, even though it might not be that believable. In addition, the focus is on a doctor and a nurse, who are connected by a love story. Which is not as flat as you might expect at first, once more thanks to the well-written characters. So, they do not only serve as persons of reference for us, making clear that they know just as little about what is going on as do the frightened patients, but they also have their own feelings and fears. This works quite well, until it doesn't, because too many coincidences and fates are brought together in a rather unbelievable way. For example, among the rather few sick individuals, a disproportionately large amount of people are important characters, which obviously makes sense for dramatic reasons.
This even goes so far that towards the end an important operation (small warning: you get to see a lot here) has to take place under particularly unfavorable conditions, while at the same time, a nurse tries to save another life. This is also the moment when the viewer realizes that "Eye of the Storm" wants to celebrate the hospital staff as heroes during this crisis. However, it is laid on a little too thick, so that you can only acknowledge it with an eyeroll. What turns out more interesting are some of the parallels to the last few years, which show how much nonsense was spread, especially at the beginning during COVID-19 (keyword: masks don't do much). SARS is the main reason why people in Asia today still walk around wearing masks when they are sick. And a lot of the measures and reactions of people, most of which the public will probably want to suppress for good reasons, are already evident in "Eye of the Storm". The movie is therefore a fascinating and different "journey through time" and manages to shine with well-written characters. In the end, though, the flick remains short of a lot of things, because as a snapshot of everyday hospital life in this crisis, it turns out a bit too superficial and melodramatic.