Thursday, January 04, 2007

Moon Child – review


Directed by: Takahisa Zeze

Release Date: 2003

Contains spoilers

I’d better declare at the beginning of this review that, after first seeing this, Moon Child hurtled into my ‘top films of all time’ list – therefore you know in advance that the review is going to be glowing! What is astounding is that, although there is a vampire in the movie, this is not strictly a vampire film. It is certainly a gangster movie and the vampire, Kei (Hyde), is almost a dramatic device that allows us to watch the film over the years with a constant – as such Kei represents us within the movie and yet is also an active protagonist.

Etsushi Toyokawa as LukaIn reality the film is about Sho (Gackt) and his life journey, but I get ahead of myself as the film begins before Sho is even born. We start in Tokyo on 31st December 2000 and the film is a blur of images to begin with. We realise that we are running with Sho who reaches another man, we find out much later is called Luka (Etsushi Toyokawa), he has blood on his lips.

In an alley Kei asks him if he got enough and Luka says he had to stop half way through. He also admits that he is giving up; he has seen enough and suggests that Kei finds a new friend. With a policeman approaching they run.

We jump forward to 2014 and the fictional city of Mallepa, presumably on the Chinese mainland. There has been an economic crash and the city is a melting pot of refugees, many from Japan. City propaganda declares Mallepa to be a place free of discrimination and full of prosperity, yet the truth is somewhat different and we hear reports of mass civil unrest. We see three young kids; Sho, his elder brother Shinji and their friend Toshi. They are all orphans. Toshi falls to the floor before a man getting in his car, as the man walks over to help the other two steal his briefcase from his car and all three run, splitting up.

vampire flesh in the sunSho reaches an abandoned warehouse and finds a man sitting, he looks dead or passed out. We recognise Kei. Sho goes to steal his watch but Kei awakens and stops him. Just then the sun, coming through the broken roof, touches his hand and it begins to burn. Sho takes Kai with him, covering him with a blanket and pulling him on a gurney.

At their den Shinji and Toshi attempt to open the briefcase whilst Sho tries to get Kei to eat some food. They open the briefcase and find that it contains a fortune in cash but the owner suddenly shows up and demands it back. Shinji throws a rock at him and then he and Toshi run. aren't you afraidToshi makes it but Shinji is shot in the leg. The man tells Sho to get his friend and bring him back. He leaves the room but then hears a scream, racing back he sees Shinji dragging himself away crying that Sho’s friend is a monster. Sho enters and sees Kei feeding on the man. Kei asks “Aren’t you afraid?” The boy shakes his head and smiles.

Sho and Kei still togetherWe cut forward ten years and Sho and Kei are still together. Toshi (Taro Yamamoto) has a pizza delivery job and delivers drugged pizzas to marks, after which Kei and Sho enter the building and rob it. As we first see them Toshi hasn’t put enough drugs on the pizza and they are in a gun fight. I’ve read comments that people didn’t like these action sequences. They are very stylised, perhaps owing a little to the Matrix, and have a stream of black comedy running through them. I feel that they are in keeping with the mood and atmosphere of the film. During these sequences we get to see some of what Kei can do.

Kei prepares to dodge bulletHe walks nonchalantly through the fire fight; the bullets cannot kill him, though he admits they sting. He is able to jump far and dodge bullets, they appearing slow to him. During one fight we see him pick up a body to use the gun in the corpse’s hand. The best way to describe the scene is that he almost waltzes with the dead man, the weight means little to him. At another point he punches a guy who flies up into the air, indicating even more how strong he is.

Luka's deathWe also discover the fate of Luka; his final moments have transformed into a dream that haunts Kei. The dream recalls him and Luka going to the sea and, as Kei backs away from the encroaching sun, Luka remaining, singing about the perfect sunset and allowing the sun to take him in a vampiric suicide. We find out towards the end of the film that it was Luka who turned Kei.

Lee-Hom Wang as Son Tin-ChenDuring one job, robbing the Taiwanese mafia, they come face to face with Son Tin-Chen (Lee-Hom Wang) who has chosen that moment to exact revenge for his sister’s, Yi-Che (Zeny Kwok), rape by the gangsters. Outnumbered, Son, Kei, Toshi and Sho team up and it marks the beginning of a friendship that sees Sho fall in love with Yi-Che whilst she, in turn, loves Kei.

Kei is caught feedingI don’t want to give too much away but things come to a head when the mafia hunt them down on the unveiling day for a picture Yi-Che has painted in the park. This leads to Toshi’s death and the revealing of Kei’s true nature to their new friends as he feeds on one of the gangsters.

Gackt as ShoThe film cuts forward another nine years and things have altered. Yi-Che and Sho are married, with a daughter, and Son has given his loyalty to the Taiwanese mafia – putting the erstwhile friends at odds with each other. The mafia want Sho, who is now a successful crime boss, to give his loyalty to them but he refuses.

Kei incarceratedAs for Kei, he has not been seen since the incident in the park but we discover that in another place, far from Mallepa, he has been arrested as a serial killer. He refuses to give any details, although tests have shown that he has mutated DNA. All he wants is to die and pleads with the investigators for them to put him in the sun. As Sho’s world crumbles around him he phones Kai, just as he is being taken to death row, and tells him he needs his old friend.

The aftermath of Kai's escapeThis gives Kei the impetuous to live and, whilst being transported, he kills and feeds from a guard and escapes the van, running wrapped in a blanket to avoid the sun. He makes it back to Mallepa and the film spins towards its violent conclusion.

I have tried my best not to give too much of the Sho’s story away as it is a marvellous and stirringly epic melodrama (in the highest meaning of the word) but hopefully have given plenty of detail about Kei.

Given that Hyde and Gackt were pop stars the acting is marvellous. Perhaps, at times, Kei seems a little young, but then as a never aging vampire he would do. I’m unsure to the menace but Hyde certainly portrayed the pathos of the character perfectly. The friendship that the man and the vampire feel for each other is palpable. I also liked the little touches, the fact that Yi-Che is mute, Toshi getting a call telling him that his mother has returned for him just before the mafia come for the friends - these little aspects make the film wrap around you.

The effects work well in the main, if you can live with the stylised gun fights – which I can. Perhaps the scene of Luka burning was a little too CGI, if I’m going to be hyper-critical. It was amusing to see a floating fish appear whenever the older Shinji (Susumu Terajima) was using drugs, a surreal device but effective. The vampirism was low played, yet this was as it should be given that the vampire was far from the main character.

Zeny Kwok as Yi-CheOne thing I did like was that, even though this was set in the future, there was nothing sci-fi about the film, the placing of the film in the near future allowed the film makers to invent location and social rules but they did not feel the need to go gadget crazy – which I am sure a Hollywood production would have done.

The soundtrack fits really well and, given the fact that this was a city of refugees, there was a plethora of languages used within the dialogue including Japanese, Cantonese and English.

The film is not one of happy endings but it does give us hope in the final sequences.

I adore this film, it is a film that could have only come out of Eastern cinema and is refreshing for that. 9 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Mateo said...

Yet another film I simply must see, thanks to you. It's going at the top of my list.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Mateo, great to hear from you. As I said in the review a film I love... I'd just repeat the caution iro the flashy fight style in the film, though it is tempered by comedy.

Incidentally, what's happened with Wikimonster? I removed the link to the blog as it (and the main site) had vanished. If wikimonster is going to rise from the ashes let me know so I can relink.

Mateo said...

I had some trouble with the hosting and canceled the account as it had to be renewed in December. I still have the database and blog stored, but am not sure if I'm going to get a new host or not. It was fun, but time consuming. I'll let you know if anything happens. Meanwhile I'll continue to read your reviews and content.

tetsunotenshi said...

Your review was a pleasant surprise for me to stumble across, as most reviews I've found of the movie outside of the general Gackt/hyde fandoms are negative or considerably critical.

I might argue your assumption that Kei is not a main character in the story- if anything, I think he and Sho share a crucial role in the storyline, which actually begins, as you noted, well before Sho is ever born and recounts parts of Kei's experience as vampire.

That aside, kudos on your open-mind and well-written review. The movie needs more positive promoters!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

tetsunotenshi, many thanks for the comment. It is a marvelous film but just to clarify - I do believe Kei is a main character in the film but I believe the fact that he is a vampire is treated so casually that it feels very matter of fact(which is unusual in film's with a vampire in them as the vampirism is usually the focal aspect) and that the film's focus is Sho.

This treating of vampirism casually was refreshing as was much about the film.