Sunday, March 03, 2024

The Moon Thieves

Me, last week: "And, with this in theaters, I think that we're probably through with Lunar New Year movies for a bit."

So, not the case - we got this on Friday, because there's apparently a limit to just how much Dune Boston Common could play with two other multiplexes a pretty easy walk or subway ride away. I honestly don't know if it would have played North America in general or Boston specifically if local theaters didn't have screens to fill because the studios' release slates were so thin after the strikes. I used to wonder when schedules would bounce back from covid before the strikes, but I wonder if consolidation and corporate debt is going to leave this the new normal.

Anyway, we've got this, and YOLO is coming out next weekend. Five or six big movies (if you count this, which isn't quite big and probably only came out in Hong Kong versus the mainland) that all got released on one weekend in China and did pretty well because that place is huge.

Kind of a shame this isn't the last one, though, because there'd be some irony if we wound up coming sort of full circle, what with Louis Cheung Kai-Chung also starring in Table for Six 2. Just like we recently had a couple of Andy Lau movies staggered a couple weeks here while they came out the same day in China, I wonder if Cheung having two movies come out the same day in Hong Kong helped or hurt, given that it was one of the local big movie weekends.

The Moon Thieves (aka The Moon Thi4v3s)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 March 2024 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

The Moon Thieves is your basic heist movie, but that's no bad thing. It could probably do with finding more ways to build the story around the watchmaking material that gives it a unique identity, but it does enough with that to make things kind of interesting. It's not crazy like the director's previous film Legally Declared Dead was, but does what it sets out to do.

It involves Vincent Ma (Edan Lui Cheuk-On), a young horologist with a line in "period component" watches - that is, counterfeits constructed out of parts from the appropriate era - who is being blackmailed into taking a much riskier job than his usual: Stealing three watches designed and worn by Pablo Picasso from the prestigious Quark Salon in Tokyo. "Uncle" (Kenug To), the second-generation owner of Hong Kong's most notorious stolen-watch shop who kept the nickname used by his later father, has put together a team that also includes "Chief" (Louis Cheung Kai-Chung), a veteran team leader; Mario (Michael Ning), a demolitions expert who mostly works on film sets; and Yoh (Anson Lo Hon-Ting), the safecracker son of Ms. Hong, a former yegg herself whose failing vision has her running a fabric store - and whose other son died on a job with Chief and Mario. It's a tricky job to start, complicated when Vincent discovers that the antique vault in Quark also contains S/N 43, the watch Buzz Aldrin wore on the moon which has since gone missing. Sure, it's long been his obsession, but you probably don't want to cross the collector who owns it (Tanabe Kazuya), even accidentally.

Aside from the targets being rare timepieces, this is pretty standard stuff, even if there's enough good it not to be completely abstract. The characters are fairly basic types in a lot of cases, their personalities not quite determined by the job they've got in the crew but maybe not far off expectations. They're basic enough that the offscreen stories intrigue a little more. Consider how much more interesting the dynamics of this movie might have been if Chief had been able to convince the nearly-blind older woman to be their safecracker, for instance. Writer Ronald Chan Kin-Hung might have had to rearrange some things, but it kind of instantly brings things on the back-burner up front and offers a lot more opportunities for real contrast among the team.

But, again, being a basic heist movie is no bad thing. The filmmakers get the rhythms right, toss in the fun reversals when the time comes, and don't try to jam pieces that the film doesn't need into it. There's not a lot of watch stuff in it, but enough for the material to not be a purely functional Macguffin. It sometimes looks like the budget is fairly tight - night shots in Tokyo are either roughly lit or badly compressed, at least as it was projected for me - but most of the time, it just means that we're seeing straightforward, unadorned filmmaking rather than folks getting too fancy with the camera or unneeded effects.

The cast isn't bad, considering that the bulk of the cast are members of MIRROR, a boy band formed out of reality show contestants a few years back; I kind of wonder to what extent Cantopop fans had fun with Edan Lui playing a nerdy watchmaker, Keung To as a psychotic peacocking gangster, and Anson Lo as an oddly naive safecracker, and whether the casting was considered on-point or amusingly against type. They're fine, if maybe kind of rough at points (they've acted plenty since forming MIRROR, maybe so much that they haven't been able to really slow down and practice the craft). It winds up little surprise that veteran Louis Cheung ends up anchoring a lot of scenes, or that Michael Ning is trusted with a lot of the bits that move the action forward, and they're more than capable of that while still mostly serving as support for Edan Lui & Anson Lo.

Anyway, it's an honest programmer - it'll last a week or so in North American theaters, maybe a bit longer in Hong Kong, and might be a pleasant surprise when it shows up as part of retrospectives if director Steve Yuen Kim-Wai rattles off a few more good crime flicks or one of the young singers becomes the next Andy Lau. You can do a lot worse for a random thing to watch on a given night.

No comments: