akahisa 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.