Friday, June 5, 2009
REVIEW: Moon Child
Running time: 120 min.
Reviewed by Bob Turnbull
Tokyo in the year 2000: On the eve of the new millenium, two men are hiding in an alley trying to escape their pursuers. We know nothing about what has occurred except that one of them is tired and simply wants to give up and see the ocean one last time. Mallepa in the year 2014: In the midst of an economic downturn and stringent anti-immigration laws, violent outbursts and riots are occurring all throughout this mainland China city where a mix of different ethnicities can be found. One of a group of street kids (who have just ripped off a wealthy man's suitcase) comes across what looks to be a long haired bum (one of the two guys from Tokyo) and invites him back to their hangout. While saving the kids from the angry business man who has returned, this vagrant proves to be a bit out of the ordinary. Mallepa in the year 2025: The former vagrant is still hanging out with the now grown up boy and the two of them are teamed up in a gun battle. Fortunately the boy can dodge bullets and the man can leap large distances and float down from high places. He also looks exactly the same as he did 25 years earlier since he happens to be a vampire.
As a huge generalization, I've found that many Asian films are willing to experiment with changing their tones numerous times - and not just subtle shifts, but gargantuan changes in pace and feel. The first half hour of "Moon Child" - Takahisu Zeze's 2003 tale of family bonds wrapped inside a vampire story - jumps between thriller, comedic action, farce and melodrama. It's not always pretty or smooth, but it's entertaining (especially the Matrix-like dodging of bullets and close-range guns-pointed-at-each-other's heads standoffs) and at its best during these schizophrenic stages. It sticks with a more melodramatic approach for much of the rest of the film and though it conveys some solid messages about the divisive nature of cultures pitted against one another and how families shouldn't be limited from spanning across those same cultures, it's never quite as fun as that opening portion.
Those street kids are still together in 2025 - young Sho (the leader of the group played by recording artist Gackt), his older brother Shinji (played by Kitano favourite Susumu Terajima) and their goofy friend Toshi. Kei, the gentleman with the bloodlust, is also played by a major recording artist - Hyde of rock band L'Arc-En-Ciel. Neither rock star is overly succesful at conveying actual emotion in the later sections of the film where you depend on your feelings for these characters. It's a bit of a shame since the film could have depended on the strong characters to elicit all the emotion the story needed instead of depending on far too many long drawn out scenes. The group of four complete their new "family" by meeting Son and his mute sister Yi-Che. Both are Taiwanese and have grudges against the local mafia. One of the film's best scenes is the initial meeting of Son with Kei and Sho at a mafia hangout. Son is out for revenge (Yi-Che was raped years ago by members of the mafia) while Kei and Sho were simply looking to drug them, rob them and perhaps bleed one or two of them dry. The big battle scene is almost comic at times with both Son and Sho able to dodge each other's bullets and its energy carries it through as they all realize that they should be teaming up.
The new friends seem to have it good for awhile, but complications arise. Son warns his friends not to fall in love with his sister (which of course both Sho and Kei do) since they aren't "his people" (ie. Taiwanese). The city itself is a shambles and violence is barely even noticed by the general population. And then one night, Son and Yi-Che see first hand the true nature of Kei and his needs...The dramatic moments play their cards really slowly (dragged out stares between people, etc.), but the story as a whole moves forward at a good clip and it uses numerous camera tricks to keep it visually interesting - sped up film during montages, beautiful shots of a huge moon and other unexpected angles and points of view. One of the film's strongest points of view is that family can be what you make it - and those bonds can be very strong.
Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.