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Moonlight in Tokyo

Leon Lai is the Man in Moonlight in Tokyo.
Chinese: 情義我心知
Year: 2005
Director: Alan Mak Siu-Fai, Felix Chong Man-Keung
Producer: Andrew Lau Wai-Keung
Writer: Alan Mak Siu-Fai, Felix Chong Man-Keung
Cast: Leon Lai Ming, Chapman To Man-Chat, Yang Kuei-Mei, Michelle Ye, Roy Cheung Yiu-Yeung, Hiro Hayama, Fire Lee
The Skinny: Rainman meets Midnight Cowboy meets Dumb and Dumber. This offbeat and surprisingly dark buddy comedy is an intriguing and unexpected entry from a film industry that has seemingly lost all sense of surprise. While questionably meaningful, Moonlight in Tokyo is among 2005's better Hong Kong movies.
by Kozo:

Thanks to its "two dopey guys and a few ducks" poster image, Moonlight in Tokyo looks to be a fun buddy comedy. The half-dazed grin on Leon Lai's face lends credence to that notion, and the presence of serial wacky sidekick Chapman To all but seals the deal. Except there's one hitch: this is not a fun buddy comedy. It's got fun and comedy, and does resemble a buddy film, but Moonlight in Tokyo is much more. It's a surprisingly dark, oddly existential, and thoroughly bizarre motion picture that takes a loaded plot and does the unexpected with it. The sight of Leon Lai as a Chinese half-wit pretending to be a Korean gigolo in Japan is unexpected enough, but Moonlight in Tokyo manages a few more surprises. The biggest surprise of all: this is actually a decent movie.

Leon Lai is Jun, a borderline retarded fellow stranded in Tokyo after his brother's family abandoned him there. Luckily, Jun runs into Hoi (Chapman To), who he recognizes as a former classmate. Unluckily, Hoi is a right bastard, who's on the hook for a sizable amount of dough lent to him by an unsavory yakuza. Hoi used the money to import foreign prostitutes, but the girls ran, leaving him without any means of paying back his loan. However, once Hoi discovers Jun's hidden talents, he has the start of a new business. Jun has the power to comfort others through his manly embrace, and provided that he keeps his mouth shut, he's a shoo-in for Shinjuku's next top gigolo. Hoi's mamasan pal Yan (Taiwanese actress Yang Kuei-Mei) recommends that Jun pretend to be a Korean, which will only drive the Japanese female clientele wild with desire. Hoi gives Jun lessons in manliness, and the money starts rolling in. But with their success comes a growing friendship. Before long, Hoi begins questioning the ethics of pimping out a friend (short answer: it's a crappy thing to do to a buddy). And is Jun really as dumb as he appears to be?

That's the simple skinny of Moonlight in Tokyo, but much, much more goes on. That is, when there aren't jokes being made. Directors/writers Alan Mak and Felix Chong (two-thirds of the Infernal Affairs braintrust) get plenty of gags out of their mismatched buddies. In addition to some hilarious "learn to be suave" lessons that Hoi gives Jun - which include sex lessons on an inflatable woman - there are also numerous gags involving slapstick violence and the sordid realities of their biz. Jun gets introduced to a variety of wacky customers, including the requisite S&M loving female and even a shifty male customer (Roy Cheung in a cameo). It's dirty, funny, and sometimes disturbing stuff. It's hard to get too chummy with a movie about a guy pimping out an almost-retarded dope; after a while, the comedy seems more disgusting than just harmlessly dirty. This is especially true since the film is not an all-out farce. Mak and Chong take pains to develop both Jun and Hoi, and though each becomes a well-rounded character, the film eventually ceases to be funny.

But that's fine, because these guys do drama too. As Jun, Leon Lai cuts an exceptionally sympathetic figure, appearing both lovably dopey and deceptively clever - even when his character loses control of his emotions and does something that he shouldn't. This is departure for Lai, as Jun is neither cool nor romantic, and is instead untidy and given to disturbing and sometimes pathetic emotional instabilities. Ten or fifteen years ago, this would have been a role owned by Chow Yun-Fat, but Lai makes it work for him. Chapman To is convincingly sleazy as Hoi, managing to give his difficult character the required duality. Hoi is both morally bankrupt and innately decent, and though To overacts at times, he still manages to convince. Each eventually becomes a character worth caring about, and the bond between the two takes on surprising emotional weight.

But the filmmakers change things up - again. Slapstick violence again shows up, along with a wacky subplot involving a deranged mob boss, and a darker one involving a murdered client. There's also a woefully underdeveloped subplot involving Hoi's estranged wife (TVB star Michelle Ye), plus numerous sightings of Leon Lai and Chapman To locked in heterosexual male clinches. And there's ballet (?). Given all the varying subplots - some given serious weight and others not - Moonlight in Tokyo ultimately becomes disjointed and even needless. But it's all good; Alan Mak and Felix Chong convey all of this with a hip soundtrack, cool cinematography, and whiplash-inducing shifts in tone. Moonlight in Tokyo goes from raunchy comedy to sentimental overdone sap to dangerous, sudden violence - sometimes within a second. The effect can be labored; at times, the shifts in tone are tough to take. Watching Moonlight in Tokyo is sometimes like getting blindsided by a bus: you didn't see it coming, and yes, it was painful.

The fact that the film is not happy-happy for its entire running time may turn off those looking for crowd-pleasing cinematic junk. Moonlight in Tokyo is a difficult film to really grasp, as its verbalized lessons seem more arbitrary than fitting. But the film does manage to involve and strangely entertain in a way Hong Kong movies seldom do anymore - which may be the key to why it works. Moonlight in Tokyo is seemingly an old-new HK combo. The style and professional look of the film is more current, but the wild emotional shifts, exaggerated characters, and mixture of comedy and drama recall an older Hong Kong movie. Back then, movies could feature family drama, slow-motion romance, slapstick comedy, bawdy sex humor, undue existentialism, and sudden tragedy all in the span of ninety minutes. Moonlight in Tokyo mirrors that, except with jazzed-up production design, cooler style, and maybe a bit more intelligence. Given 2005's terrible Hong Kong Cinema output (a Top 10 might have to be truncated to a Top 6 to insure some level of quality), Moonlight in Tokyo is easily one of the year's better films, and a movie that absolutely surpasses its immediate expectations. Hell, we'll even say it's good. (Kozo 2006)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Mega Star Video Distribution
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese/Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen