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Original Title:
Ching yi ngor sum gi

Hong Kong 2005

Comedy, Drama

Felix Chong
Alan Mak

Chapman To
Leon Lai
Michelle Ye
Yang Kuei-Mei
Roy Cheung
Hayama Hiro

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Moonlight in Tokyo

Story: Hoi (Chapman To) struggles through life by taking on shady jobs. When he lends some money from a yakuza in oder to "buy" some western prostitutes who then vanish into thin air with his money he is into big trouble. The yakuza wants his money back and Hoi has to find a fast way to get his hands on a lot of cash. By chance he runs into slightly retarded Jun (Leon Lai) who is waiting for someone on the street as he has been abandoned by his family. He thinks to have met an old schoolmate in Hoi. Hoi soon discovers that Jun has a very special talent. Women simply melt away as soon as he hugs them. Therefore, Hoi comes up with a new business idea. He talks Jun into working as a gigolo and since he doesn't speak a single word of Japanese tells him to pretend to be Korean as this would make women even more crazy about him. However, a friendship slowly starts to unfold between Hoi and Jun and Hoi has to rethink his decision to take advantage of Jun so ruthlessly...

Review: A buddy movie that reminds you of John Schlesinger's "Midnight Cowboy" with a good portion of comedy and drama. At least that's what you might expect after reading the story summary and taking a look at the film poster. But it's all a little bit different. Alan Mak and Felix Chong who are a crucial part of Hong Kong cinema since their "Infernal Affairs" trilogy create a movie throughout whose making they seemingly had a completely free hand which means that they could really do as they pleased and at some points they just did that. Thus, funny scenes go hand in hand with emotional and sometimes even surprisingly gritty moments. At the end there remains just the word "strange" to describe "Moonlight in Tokyo". Despite all the creativity without a doubt involved in the making of this movie you still can't overlook the fact that the film lacks a red thread which manages to hold everything together in a satisfactory way.

The introduction already shows us that we can expect to get something very special here. The room in which Jun sits in proves to be a big set that vanishes into the background one part after another until there is only Jun left in a black room. Then a female ballet dancer enters the picture and dances to Tschaikovsky's "Swan Lake". "Swan Lake" and The Ugly Duckling are two motives that run through the whole movie, but this almost dream-like scene gets interrupted by a cut to Hoi in which Mak and Chong deliver the best stylish camera movements they can come up with in order to introduce a new character in an appropriately cool fashion. Just to take the coolness away from him again in the next scene. Hoi and Jun eventually get close when Hoi is put onto the street by the yakuza completely drunken and helpless starting to cry and looking like a picture of misery. That's also the moment when Hoi experiences first-hand what soothing effect Jun's embrace really has.

It would be wrong to imply a homo-erotic relationship between Jun and Ho, but the directors like to toy with scenes that could hint at a relationship like this. Still, these scenes actually just serve the comedy part of the film. In fact a friendship develops between the two main characters that lets them rethink their lives. Leon Lai plays Jun, a slightly retarded young man who is actually not totally dumb. He is just slower than others when it comes to working with his brain and he even becomes angry about it on some occasions as this gets him into problems sometimes. Lai's portrayal is quite distinguished, he refrains from playing with "Rain Man"-like clichés and depicts a man that is a bit more naive and easier to take advantage of because of his smaller-than-average intellect. Of course this also leads to some funny moments in which Hoi tries to talk Jun into becoming a gigolo who then asks if he wouldn't become a whore in that case. Hoi's simple answer to that: "No, man can never be a whore."

The overall lighthearted mood of the film is more than anything else carried by a corresponding soundtrack which at some points gets into the foreground in an intrusive fashion. Especially the scenes in which Hoi shows his "friend" how to act as a gigolo including taking a glance on the clientele he has to work with are quite funny, yet they also somehow have something of a bitter aftertaste to them, too, as Jun is driven into prostitution after all. Despite some small slapstick moments this odd feeling is actually intended by Mak/Chong as the film is working on a drama level as the story unfolds as well and the directors actually manage that the viewer can build up an emotional bond to the two characters. Chapman To embodies this ambivalence that runs through the movie. He deserves the viewer's scorn because he shamelessly takes advantage of Jun in order to be able to pay his debts to the yakuza boss but deep inside he isn't such a bad guy as he also gets moral pangs of conscience for doing it. His story with his former wife gives the character more depth, too. To proves that he can take on more serious roles as well and shouldn't just be a regular funny side character.

Why exactly the film takes place in Tokyo remains a mystery because most of the time the city looks like Hong Kong anyway. For the most part this is because of Mak and Chong's fantastic directing, the oftentimes fast cuts, the time lapse scenes as well as scenes in which the coolness factor is supposed to be risen by a good amount. Contrary to some other movies of the two directors it doesn't seem out of place this time as you are presented with these scene with a small wink.
Irritating, though, are some surprisingly dark moments. This mix simply doesn't work out the way the directors might have wanted it to. Especially the ending will make some viewers scream out loud in disbelief as you can't really see it coming. Furthermore, the whole finale seems rather hasty so that we can't really feel emotionally involved, especially not since everything that's keeping you busy is the question: "What just happened?" In "Moonlight in Tokyo" there are simply too many genres played with in the end. That may be creative and the story as well as the characters may be appealing, too, but the movie still leaves the impression of being too rash for its own good. At the end you will rather call this film an "interesting experiment" than a masterpiece.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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