TLA Releasing // 2003 // 119 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // July 9th, 2004
"I live by draining the lives of others" -- Kei
Moon Child is a low budget Japanese yakuza vampire sci-fi action drama. In the end, these influences are so diffused that the film doesn't work in any single context, but it is an interesting example of what happens when a director isn't satisfied to make one kind of movie.
In the future in a city called Mallepa, there are tensions between populations from Japan and China, which has created many organized crime problems. A young boy named Sho (Gackt) is almost killed after he and his friends mess with a local crime boss, but he is saved by a vampire named Kei (HYDE). The two of them become closer as Sho grows up, but they are pulled apart when they both fall in love with the same girl and Kei has some serious vampire angst problems.
In the mean time, they run into all kinds of trouble, get into vicious gun battles, and feed on the blood of evil Chinese criminals (well, Kei does).
Essentially, Moon Child is two films in one. The main film is a very typical John Woo inspired gangster action flick that has been tossed in a blender with the Interview with a Vampire inspired story of a creature of the night struggling to maintain good relationships with his potential food. In order to make the film extra cool, Director Takahisa Zeze (best known for making adult films) has tossed some dystopian sci-fi into the mixture as well.
Unfortunately, none of these aspects of the film work as well as they should. The futuristic timeframe of the film is completely absorbed by the main plot, and I wouldn't have guessed it was meant to take place in the future if it wasn't for the script's constant reminders. It has little to say about current situations in Japan and where that country is heading, and the crappy, dilapidated setting of the film looks about the same as any such film. Nothing about the film requires it to be placed in the future.
The vampire story seems out of place here as well. The script necessitates the removal of Kei for a large segment of the middle, because he unbalances the gang story too much. An invincible bloodsucker is a real asset in a firefight, after all. Then, when Kei is present, he is such a painfully typical vampire. He is upset because he will watch his friends grow old around him. He also tries to fight his urge for blood because he doesn't think that it's right to feed on people. There aren't many scenes of vampirism in the film, and when there are, they are neither gory nor scary.
The gangster movie works better than the vampire movie, but it is also very rooted in convention. Sho grows to be a hotshot gunfighter (who can sometimes dodge bullets without any explanation). He winds up in a bloody rivalry in which a gang that he used to get along with murder members of his family and friends. The racial tension is there as well, but it feels forced. The biggest problem is with the action scenes. For a movie so inspired by John Woo, Moon Child has no sense whatsoever of action aesthetics. The camera remains static most of the time and it's often unclear what's going on. To make matters worse, the stunts are what you could expect from a gang of high school students with a camcorder and the memory of too many westerns. As a result, the action scenes are more dull and hokey than they are exciting.
With the vampire scenes being so useless and the action scenes so dull, the only hope Moon Child has of working is in the performances. Gackt and HYDE are both Japanese rock stars in their movie debuts. I don't want to make a generalization about rock stars deciding to become actors, but let's face it, most rock stars make really crappy film actors. In this particular case, Gackt pleasantly surprised me. Sho is a fairly compelling character, who has a great physical presence for his action scenes, and enough subtlety that I wasn't cringing when he had dialogue. I can see him going on to become an accomplished actor. HYDE, on the other hand, had both a more difficult role and a much weaker performance. He didn't bring anything new to the vampire role, and he seemed more like a troubled teen than a powerful immortal. The supporting cast does a decent job as well. If the script had focused on one of the two stories, it may have turned out to be a far more compelling film.
If the film is mediocre and somewhat disappointing, the disc gives it precisely the treatment it deserves. The video transfer is fairly ugly, even for its humble origins. The black levels are weak, the color is muddy, and the image is quite soft, especially for an anamorphic transfer. I understand that it was low budget, but a decent transfer should have come out better than this. The serviceable but dull 2.0 stereo track does nothing to add excitement to the action scenes, although the dialogue is loud enough and the music comes sounds fine. The film begs for a full surround track though, and doesn't get it.
The only real extra feature is a photo gallery, with a whopping nine images to browse through. There are also a few trailers for upcoming TLA releases.
Because there are always bits and pieces from so many elements, Moon Child works far better than it should because of a few decent performances. Still, I didn't care enough for the characters to feel sorry for them as the end of the film approached. Fans of genre flicks may want to give this one a rent with a gang of buddies, but I can't recommend this disc for purchase. It tries so hard to be cool, bit it mostly comes off looking bland and sappy.
Moon Child is guilty, but I will let the cast and crew off with a strong warning this time. An ex-adult film director should understand that pulpy genre pictures need to push the envelope, and this kind of lackluster attempt will only get swallowed up by the large studio pictures that have cool action scenes and bigger budget explosions.
Review content copyright © 2004 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery