In a small Florida town, a tantalizing tale of mystery, passion and fatal obsession unfolds under the sultry spell of a full moon. Oscar nominee Ed Harris (Apollo 13) and Madeleine Stowe (The Last of the Mohicans) turn up the heat in this sexy, stylish thriller. Together with co-stars Benicio Del Toro and Charles dance, Harris and Stowe deliver searing performances in this deliciously dark web of love, lust and lies that "keeps you guessing" (Los Angeles Times) until the final mesmerizing frame.
Homicide detective Kyle Bodine (Harris) is the best in the business. But even a cop as brilliant as Kyle can become confused in the embrace of a seductive woman. What starts as a casual flirtation with local beauty Rachel Monro (Stowe) escalates into a desire that cannot be denied. And when Rachel's need to escape her unhappy marriage to an abusive banker ends in murder, Kyle becomes trapped in a bewildering nightmare of deceit and deadly betrayal.
"You don't see nothing because you're bored."
Neo-noir thrillers add a little spice of life to a classic genre. Not bound to seedy back allies or black and white photography, the modern resurgence of noir thrillers in the 90s allowed for a slew of great sweaty, sleazy, sexy murder mystery thrillers to crop up. Films like Devil in a Blue Dress, Palmetto, and even Basic Instinct to a degree offered up the basics for the classic noir thriller while pushing the genre with some 90s flair. 1991's China Moon from director John Bailey and starring Ed Harris and Madeleine Stowe plays to the classic noir genre tropes featuring a cop in over his head with a murder plot gone wrong, but the film's tedious plodding nature keeps genuine suspense and thrills from percolating.
Kyle Bodine (Ed Harris) has a knack for murder. He knows all of the ins and outs. He knows how to think like a murderer. How to hide evidence of a crime. He knows because he's one of the best homicide detectives in a seemingly sleepy Florida town. He's seen it all and knows the score and is doing his best to train his rookie partner Lamar (Benicio Del Toro) a few tricks of the trade. It's all routine for Kyle until he meets the beautiful Rachel Munro (Madeleine Stowe) at a bar. He's instantly taken by the woman and goes to great lengths to get to know her more personally and intimately. But what Kyle isn't prepared for is Rachel's violent husband Rupert (Charles Dance). When Rupert turns up dead, Kyle finds himself caught in a murder plot he can get out of.
If there's a valid criticism any movie can be stuck with is playing things too safely. This is especially the case when a film is toying around with established genres with a set of conventions. Playing it safe and by the numbers is exactly what ails China Moon. While it features terrific turns from Ed Harris, Madeleine Stowe, and a nicely mean outing by Charles Dance, the final film plays more like a low rent Double Indemnity than a fresh new take on a classic genre. You've got the honest straight as an arrow detective caught up in a web of lust and sex by a scheming woman who plots to get rid of her husband. If that plot breakdown sounds at all familiar then you're already ahead of the game as China Moon just doesn't move away from expectations.
My first encounters with China Moon was thanks to late night cable movie channels. In my high school years, I would frequently get migraine headaches that would keep me up all hours of the night. With nothing else to do I would turn on the tube and China Moon was a frequent guest on whatever premium channel my folks subscribed to. Maybe it was insomnia, maybe it was the throbbing pain in my head, but my memories of this film were relatively positive so I was kind of excited to revisit this one. Unfortunately, the film doesn't match up to nostalgia. I will say that it's still an entertaining outing, it's just not anything special. And I wanted it to be special. There's a lot of promise with this film, but the plot just takes the established road too often to make the twists or turns exciting.
If there's a reason to watch the film it's for Ed Harris and Madeleine Stowe. The pair shares a genuine chemistry and plays their respective roles well. Harris is in top form as a man in well over his head. Stowe is also great as Rachel as you can't be fully sure of her motivations. She's great at playing innocent, but there's something behind the eyes you can never be too sure of. It's also fun watching a young Benicio Del Toro playing the stalwart rookie cop who may not be as naive or unobservant as he may seem. Taken as a whole China Moon is a decent watch. It's undemanding and not the most original of thrillers, but if you don't ask too much from it, it's good comfort on a cold night when nothing is on.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
China Moon arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a Region A BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case and comes with a booklet containing cover images of other Studio Classics releases. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
China Moon arrives with an aged 2.34:1 1080p scan. It's not altogether a bad scan, it just shows its age. This scan was probably prepped for DVD and simply recycled here as there are various instances of softness, details that don't quite come to life. Close up shots are generally good, medium shots are decent, but some wides and even some middles can be especially soft. Colors are decent with good flesh tones and some strong primary pop. Daylight scenes make great use of the Florida locations. Black levels are decent giving the image a nice sense of depth. The source print is in decent shape with only a few moments of speckling and some fine scratches. All around this isn't the most amazing transfer, nor is it the worst thing out there.
China Moon comes packed with a solid English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout without any issues. Sound effects give a strong sense of atmosphere and space, particularly for some of the film's more nefarious locations. The George Fenton score mixes in nicely giving the film's audio a nice old time jazz vibe to it. Imaging is typical for a straightforward stereo mix. Levels are on point for most of the film, but I felt during the early stretches where we're getting to know Ed Harris' Kyle as he investigates a murder that the dialogue was a bit on the softer side and I had to turn the volume up a bit. But once those early moments are done the audio worked itself out. Free of any hiss, pops, or age-related anomalies, this is an overall decent audio mix that lends itself well to the film.
China Moon comes with a solid audio commentary featuring director John Bailey and editor Carol Littleton. For what amounts to a relatively mediocre movie, this is a pretty great and informative commentary track that's well worth the listen. The rest of the bonus features is the typical Studio Classics gallery of trailers.
Audio Commentary featuring director John Bailey and editor Carol Littleton.
Theatrical Trailer (SD 1:31)
This World, Then The Fireworks Trailer (SD 1:54)
Heart of Midnight Trailer (HD 2:20)
Slam Dance Trailer (HD 2:24)
Malice Trailer (SD 1:57)
Still of the Night Trailer (HD 2:06)
Last Embrace Trailer (HD 2:54)
China Moon is a neo-noir thriller that almost was. It has all of the makings of a classic of the genre with a terrific cast and a decent plot setup. Unfortunately, some clunky plotting falls back too heavily onto the basics and the film ends up being more mediocre than memorable. It's enjoyable for the performances, but don't be too surprised if you find yourself feeling a few paces ahead of the film. Kino Lorber Studio Classics brings China Moon to Blu-ray in good shape with a halfway decent video transfer, a solid audio mix, and a worthwhile commentary track. Fans of the film should be pleased with this release. For newcomers, I would suggest a rental first as the central mystery doesn't quite live up to expectations. Give it a look if you're curious.