Moonlight Express

This Chinese-Japanese co-production is an intriguing and at times gripping film, but ultimately strikes me as somewhat phony.  It has the air of a yuppie/pop yet very perverse romance mixed in with a gritty suspense film. Both on their own are interesting to different degrees, but they mix like oil and water. It’s like two different films going on. Even the cinematography and editing styles change drastically between the two stories.

The film begins with a proposal of marriage in Japan by a Japanese hotel manager, Tatsuya – played by Leslie Cheung – to Takako Tokiwa. Only a few scenes later, Tatsuya dies in a car crash (by my pet peeve – using cellular phones in a car!). They had been planning to live in HK and he had promised her dinner on the Peak. To complete the circle of her grief, she goes to HK and in a scene only in the movies - bumps into Karbo who is an exact double of her dead fiancé. Obviously, Leslie also plays this character. In a bow to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Takako tries to turn Karbo into Tatsuya and have him pretend to be him for one day. This part of the film plays out like one of those Japanese soaps – lots of annoying pop music and close ups of a misty eyed Takako. She does a nice cry I will admit.

Karbo though has other problems on his mind. It turns out that he is an undercover cop on the verge of a big drug bust. Everything goes wrong though and he is soon on the run suspected of stealing the drugs. He needs a place to hide out and for some reason takes Takako with him.
They trek out of HK to a small restaurant/horse ranch to see an old friend. The friend turns around and it is the very lovely countenance of Michelle Yeoh. As a favor to a friend, she took on this small role (10 minutes on screen) and asked not to be included in the publicity campaign.
After spending over an hour with the lovely, sweet but very girlish Takako, my reaction was “now this is the difference between a girl and a woman”. Michelle looks terrific and says more about her character with a few far away looks and winsome smiles than Takako does in the whole film. She brings a gravity to the film that was missing.
All in all this is not a bad film – the love story was a bit slow at times – the undercover part is quite interesting and it has excellent production values. But as I said above it is ultimately phony because of too many coincidences and unbelievable behavior by the characters at times. I don’t want it to sound like I didn’t like Tarako either. I did – she is very lovely (a slight resemblance I thought to Cynthia Khan) – but I never really buy her character’s motivations. Going after someone that looks like your dead boyfriend is an act of sick obsession (which Stewart gets down perfectly in Vertigo), but she never delves into that dark area of the psyche.