IN TOKYO (2005-HK)
review by Neo
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say handicap cannot be COOL?
Somehow playing a handicap can bring along the best out of anyone, just like Tom Hanks in Forest Gum, Ah Wong in the TVB series, Chow Yun Fat in God of Gamblers, Jet Li in Unleashed and now following the above footsteps - comes Leon Lai. HK movies nowadays have lost that former flair of merging heaps of genre into one movie. Those were the fun days, it is only recently in the serving of 2005's Crazy N the City that returns to this much awaited come back and luckily Moonlight in Tokyo follow the same suit. The result is a definite HK feel production that merges glimpses of dark comedy, parody, existentialism, yet seemingly fun and extremely commercially dark at the same time.
The movie goes like this: Intellectually impaired he might be, JUN (Leon Lai) is only dumb but not silly. Abandoned by his family on a trip to Tokyo with only a few notes in his pocket, he thinks he has found his guardian angel when he bumps into a former classmate, HOI (Chapman To). But Hoi is no angel at all. He is just a grifter on the run from yakuza loan sharks. When YAN (Yang Kuei-mei), the owner of an escort service, is convinced the ingenuous Jun will make a perfect gigolo, Hoi decides to transform his pal into Tokyo's most sought-after Lothario in order to eke out a living and to pay his debts...
When it comes to stoic roles, few can surpass Jet Li and Leon Lai. So to witness Lai's departure role as a handicap, it is alone a surprise, yet amazingly Lai managed to pull it off brilliantly and instantly gaining the audience's core sympathies. Not unlike the Ah Wong's TVB series - Life Made Simple, Lai's character isn't totally handicapped though he is dumb at times and witty in unexpected situations, Lai's character life is very simple - making other people happy and himself smiling as well. Perhaps it is why Neo constantly seek to be a child again, where trivial things can make me "happy" again. As you grow up, you realise that being happy isn't exactly the most important thing nor a easy thing to achieve. While Chapman To's character is initially filled with bad intentions of using a handicap to earn back his loan shark, his character is flawed yet with an underlying heart and bottom line. While To constantly overacts, he is extremely convincing and emotes in a manner that shows the struggle of simply being a grown up human being.
The film is actually extremely dark, but frequently the darkness are seduced by black comedy which is both funny and criticising at the same time. One might wonder who directed this surprisingly dark yet light hearted movie and the answer is from half the team that brought you Infernal Affairs - Alan Mak etc... Mak creates a vivid world with its main characters going through numerous seemingly comical yet dark situations such as sex for money, framed murder, family issues, brother-ship and the bottom-line of humanity. In doing so, Mak hides ethical issues and buries them with a layer of sand - making the audience laugh with a sense of heart at the end. If there are flaws within this attempt is the unexplored territory of the subplots of Lai's family and To's wife and child. Those elements are not fully understood, yet is brought up numerously by the duos.
Mak portrays life as precious, that no matter who you are and where you come from - a life is a life. No matter how good, bad, or neutral you are, life is extremely easy to lose, even though living can be so difficult. A fitting, yet wholly un-commercial-like finale is both refreshing and though provokingly dark. Mak also busts in some existentialism to add further layers into the themes and the questioning of one's truth and lies. What may seem true, may well be the unexpected lie. Mak plays with the idea of random meetings provoking us to think how if Leon didn't run away from his family and To didn't owe any loan shark, perhaps they would never have met and their fate may well been very different. Constant allusion to fairytale "ducks" is perfectly ironic as it juxtapose with the way Lai/To make fast cash - by being "ducks" - gigolos. Call it luck or whatever, but in Neo's honest opinion - its a stroke of pure vs. impure.
Moonlight in Tokyo isn't exactly damn ass original, but it has this very distinctive HK feel to it that most movies nowadays seems to have lost or gone into Hollywood mayhem. Hardly is there a film that is so easy to watch yet at the same time - filled with meaningful parodies and not so meaningful dark moments. The ending is dark, yet extremely inspiring in a shocking surprise manner. Rarely do any HK movies surprise Neo anymore, so in itself it is a worthy admiration. Of course, Mak is a great director, but when you realise that Leon Lai deserves a best actor nomination and hell yeah even Chapman To deserves one, you do realise the world is changing. Lucky, the change is for the good of HK and if only there is more of it like this one. Moonlight in Tokyo is by far alongside Crazy N the City, the most refreshing work in years and hell yeah - one of the best 2005 have to offer.
I rate it 9.5/10
on this movie on HK Neo Reviews Forum
Genre: Comedy Drama
Director: Director: Alan Mak Siu-Fai, Felix Chong Man-Keung
Cast: Leon Lai Ming, Chapman To Man-Chat, Yeung Gwai-Mei, Michelle Ye (Yip Suen), Roy Cheung Yiu-Yeung
Reviewed by Andrew (Neo), February 2006