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Review © Alex Apple, 2006.

Directed by Takahisa Zeze, 2003, 119 mins., starring Gackt, Hyde, Taro Yamamoto and Ryo Ishibashi.

There are times when a reviewer just has to stop delaying the inevitable, bite the bullet and sit down in front of a movie in which they have patently no curiosity, and, in the interests of the greater good, sit through an overlong, confused, boring movie with about as much going for it as a congealing pile of dog vomit.

And, although the fan girls are going to stomp me to death for this, Takahisa (latterly of the pink school of film making) Zeze's Moon Child is one such movie. Nominally, it "stars" J-Pop heroes Gackt and Hyde, which in itself is almost enough for the ardent Wapanese to squee until they fall, drained, to the floor, ready for a night's beauty sleep cuddling their cuddly Nekobus and mentally preparing themselves for yet another day dedicated to gushing over pictures of Taro Yamamoto - who also happens to be in this movie. OK, so maybe I'm the wrong person to be reviewing this movie, but let's ignore the inevitable waves of fangirl squeeking for a moment. This is a review for the rest of us.

Synopsis 

Let's state, for the record, that the first hour of this movie is pretty much plot-free. You could argue, perhaps, that it's all about characterisation, about exposing the nature of the friendship between ancient vampire Kei (Hyde, who I will confess does look totally dreeeeeamy...) and listless orphan Sho (Gackt, who resembles nothing more in this movie than a fifty-year old woman desperately trying to cling onto what looks she has left). The pre-pubescent Sho is rescued by Kei when he, his brother Shinji and best mate Toshi get themselves into a scrape in some fictional Taiwanese district called Mallepa, where they nick a gangster's suitcase with a fortune in it and start getting themselves accidentally shot when the gangster comes looking for it.

Skip forward fifteen years, and not only have Sho and Kei shacked up together – no, not in that sense, I'm sure they're just "best friends" – but have, along with Shinji and Toshi (who's now morphed into Kawada from Battle Royale, aka Taro Yamamoto) established themselves as low-level gangsters, no less. In order to impress us of this fact, Zeze insists on showing us interminable low-rent gun battles, which feature gimmicky "bullet time" segments as Kei, who of course as a vampire has superpowers, and can dodge speeding bullets, and jump over buildings (OK, so big piles of boxes) in a single bound, instructs Sho where to go to dodge them pesky slugs. Already you're wondering a) why? and b) isn't Sho a vampire yet then?

Problem is, you see, that Kei has existential angst. He doesn't like being a vampire, can't countenance what he does to people in order to survive. That said, he seems to have no opposition to his mates shooting up their rivals to gain much more cash, so he can't be all that principled.

Anyway, the first hour is taken up with much gunplay, much pouting, manly wrestling on the beach and much gazing into middle distance contemplating the realities of unlife. Just as the hour draws to the close, Sho's rivals get the better of him and execute Toshi in front of them all, just as their mate Son's sister Yi-Che has a big mural unveiled. It's 2025, so Toshi has had a good quarter-century to be able to watch Battle Royale, and perfectly replicates Kawada's death scene from that movie, thankfully minus the erection. This may or may not be explained by Taro Yamamoto's acting range.

Inexplicably, five years pass in the blink of an eye. Kei's got himself arrested for murder (by Ryo Ishibashi, no less!) and put on death row; Son has defected to the local Triad gang; Sho has married Yi-Che and has had a daughter. As Sho goes off to visit Kei in prison, the rest of the gang is gunned down by the Triads and Sho, on his returns, blames his brother Shinji. I raised a hearty cheer as Shinji at this point attempts to deck Sho and rushes off to gun down Triad leader Chan, only to be gunned down himself - it did look as if the movie was about to take a gritty turn. However, in the subsequent summit meeting between the two gangs, between Sho and Son, Yi-Che does come out with the immortal line "why can't you all just get along?" and we're back to square one again.

Anyway, another few months pass in the flash of an on-screen caption, and we find Yi-Che dying of a brain tumour (CHEESE ALERT!), the final showdown between the gangs imminent, Kei about to be executed... does anyone still care? I for one had all but given up on the improbable plot twists, the shallow characters, the existential pouting and the cheesy dialogue.

The problem with Moon Child is partly that it doesn't know what it wants to be. Vampire movie? Yakuza movie? Soap opera? Beneath its wannabe high-gloss veneer there lies nothing more than a pulpy centre. All angles are left uncovered – there's not enough vampirism to make an effective shocker (even a schlocky one), not enough on the crime side for an effective thriller, not enough characterisation for a soap opera. There's maybe only three vampire victims in the whole movie, and certainly no typical vampire movie mortals-hunt-the-undead storyline. Or even a undead-terrify-mortals storyline – bear in mind Kei does have existential angst and deep, deep vampiric guilt. The gunplay wants to be stylish, but this is style on a low-budget – for all its Matrix aspirations, Moon Child has about as much style as an episode of Baywatch. And as for soap, well there were more convincing episodes of The Colbys – for example, the one where they were kidnapped by space aliens.

Zeze's directing is uninspired at best – as you can probably see from the screencaps on this page, there's plenty of gloriously slashy moments but when it really counts, the action sequences are woefully lifeless. Trouble is, The Matrix had money behind it, and Moon Child doesn't, and it shows. The effects look like someone's bought some indoor fireworks down at the joke shop, and it's pretty lame to have poor special effects in what is effectively an action movie.

But Moon Child 's worst crime is that it's boring - you don't care about any of the characters, there's no tension, slashy or otherwise, the plot is ludicrous and takes an hour to get going, it can't decide what it is and everyone involved seemed to think that the movie could be carried on the presence of Gackt and Hyde alone. Yet they have about as much acting skill as Jack Nicholson has musical talent (and watch The Who's Tommy for the evidence of how much he really doesn't possess). For all the pouting, for all the wannabe philosophy, what this movie is really about is Gackt and Hyde. And it's on this – and this alone – that the movie will stand or fall. Really, there's only one good actor in the entire movie – Ryo Ishibashi – and, just like in The Grudge, he's sidelined to speak English for the majority of his all too brief time on screen – which isn't an attempt to have him not be able to out-act the rest of the novice cast, no.

Fans of the two leads will, of course, be quite willing to ignore this movie's many shortcomings just so they can see their idols in extreme close-up, gazing at length at their navels and/or into each other's eyes, but the fact that there's not even a romantic pay-off between the two leads means it's frustrating on all levels. For the rest of us, Moon Child is a turgid, confused movie which presents nothing unique, or even much more than a mild diversion. For fans only.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment Value: 0/10
Violence: 2/10
Sex: 0/10, unless you're into implied brooding slash, in which case 100/10
Wangst: 1,000,000,000,000/10
Guns: In no way meant to represent phallic symbols
Congealed Dog Vomit: That's what I said! You heard me!
Vampires: 1. Poor count for a vampire movie, no?
Ryo Ishibashi: fails to save this dog vomit of a movie
If you want a movie with Japanese rock stars: Choose Wild Zero instead

Films in a Similar Style: Spiceworld. That's what I said! You heard me!

*** Congealed dog vomit ***

Moon Child Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2006

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Takahisa Zeze
Ryo Ishibashi
Taro Yamamoto

Links

Any official site is now long gone (thank God) but you can find a trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch.php?v=uuy8Rmurwpo. There's more "making of" footage as well on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/results?tag=moonchild
http://www.monstersatplay.com/review/dvd/m/moonchild.php - Monsters At Play are so on the money
http://www.acdrifter.com/Asian-Movie-Review/161/Moon-Child.html - Asian Cinema Drifter don't like it, but certainly don't hate it with the passion we do
http://www.thefilmasylum.com/reviews/moonchild/moonchild.htm - somebody had to like it
http://www.chenka.com/moon-child/main.php - we are contractually obliged to stick in a random link for a fanlisting for this sort of movie. It's just that sort of movie.

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