Takahisa Zeze’s “Moon Child” is artistically very satisfying, but is unfortunately very generic. Gackt Camui, a big pop star in his native Japan, stars as Sho, a Japanese street urchin making a tough living on the mean streets of fictional Taiwanese city Mallepa in the year 2014. During a routine snatch and grab, young Sho runs into lethargic vampire Kei (Hyde, also a big pop star in Japan), who is ready to end it all. But Sho saves Kei, who in turn saves Sho from certain death, and the duo becomes close friends.
Fast-forward 11 years later, and Sho and Kei, firmly entrenched in the Mallepa underworld, are making a living sending doped up pizza to local gangsters and then robbing them. The third member of the triumvirate is Toshi (Taro Yamamoto), another orphan. During yet another fouled up raid on a gambling parlor, the trio runs into Son (Lee-Hom Wang), a Taiwanese who is avenging the gang rape of his mute sister Yi-Che (Zeny Kwok) by the gangsters. The foursome becomes fast friends, which leads us to –
Fast-forward some more years. Sho is now an established gangster, but some things have changed. For one, buddy Son has joined a rival gang, and Kei has been missing for some time. We learn that Kei is in fact still alive and in prison inside some city immerse in civil warfare or some such. Kei has given up on life and wishes to die. Meanwhile, Sho is feeling pressure from the local Mafioso to either join him or get crushed.
If the above synopsis of “Moon Child” seems ambitious, that’s because the film itself is quite ambitious. “Moon Child” is the product of a big budget, likening it, in many ways, to the Hong Kong offering “The Twins Effect”. The two films have vampires, the two leads are major pop idols in their native lands, and both films suffer terribly from too much style and not enough originality. But unlike “Effects”, “Child” is strangely very watchable.
The first thing of note is “Moon Child’s” use of Kei as a brooding vampire in a story that is essentially a generic Rise and Fall of the Gangster movie. The first act is the film’s longest, taking up nearly an hour’s worth of running time. The film opens as half-comedy and half-parody of the Gangster genre, but all that disappears along with Kei in favor of straightforward (and wholly predictable) narrative. With Sho and Son now on opposite sides of the fence, will anyone be shock that the two are headed toward one of those climactic gun battles filled with enough melodrama to choke a stable of horses?
It’s hard to put a finger on what makes “Moon Child” very watchable. The acting by leading man Gackt Camui is certainly superb, and the fact that Camui has an androgynous look contributes to the character’s complexity. In comparison, co-star and fellow pop idol Hyde seems overmatched. Hyde’s Impact Moments come across as lame; the first-time actor is barely able to convince as a vampire, much less as a brooding and cursed vampire. And you have to wonder why Kei bitches so much about being cursed when the way out is to simply step into the sunlight and get turned into charcoal.
Other things about “Moon Child” bother the thinking viewer. For instance, for someone who is supposed to have been viciously gang raped, Yi-Che doesn’t seem to have been especially affected. We learned that the reason for her muteness was not the rape, but trauma from her childhood. Also, Lee-Hom Wang (“China Strike Force”) is introduced much too late, and his character given much too little to do. This is doubly a concern since his character figures prominently into the inevitable final shoot-out.
In a funny way, director Takahisa Zeze gets credit for “Moon Child’s” impressive visual style, but also the blame for staging some horrendous gunfights. The latter becomes a major point of frustration because “Moon Child” has a lot of gunfights. As filmed by Zeze, characters shouldn’t bother to run and hide because no one in the film can shoot what they aim for — unless, of course, a scene requires someone to finally get shot. On more than one occasion, characters fire at one another from point-blank range for what seems like whole minutes, resulting in no casualties whatsoever. Overly loud foley of gunshots does not a good gunfight make.
Obviously all the action scenes were orchestrated to be “cool” and nothing more. And while the film’s action scenes do indeed look very cool, they will also make members of the audience roll their eyes in wonderment and snicker at the same time. “Moon Child” is visually very pleasing, but the problem is that the film just doesn’t know when to cut its losses and move on. A shorter first act, a longer second act, and a more original third act would have helped matters. To top it off, the film tacks on an extra 15 minutes at the end that does little except try to squeeze the last remaining drops out of the Well of Unnecessary Melodrama.
Takahisa Zeze (director) / Gackt Camui, Isuchi Kisyu, Takahisa Zeze (screenplay)
CAST: Gackt Camui …. Sho
Hyde …. Kei
Zeny Kwok …. Yi-Che
Etsushi Toyokawa …. Luka
Lee-Hom Wang …. Son
Taro Yamamoto …. Toshi