Transnational Geek

Author M. H. Boroson shares his geeky passions: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, spirit magic kung fu movies, the ethics of cultural appropriation, Chinese American literature and history, The Dresden Files, Daoist magic, strong female characters, Asian monsters, spirit world depictions, traditional Chinese foods, race, class, gender, and culture.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Moonlight (殭屍魅影) -- hopping vampires in 2011?

Moonlight (殭屍魅影) is a 2011 movie from Hong Kong.  I was interested in it because it was supposed to be an updated version of the hopping vampire movie, a Chinese film genre from the 1980s, which I love without reservation or apology.
Moonlight was supposed to be a hopping vampire movie with a detective story mixed in. An article in a Chinese magazine said the filmmakers had been reading detective novels nonstop. Half an hour into the movie, I realized WHICH detective novels they were reading: Natsuhiko Kyogoku's.
My favorite film genre, combined with an author who amazes me.  This should rock, shouldn't it? WRONG.
But there’s something to learn from the epic fail of this film.  Something about creativity.  To understand what I mean, let's take a look at the two things Moonlight tried to combine.
At their best, hopping vampire movies are high-energy supernatural fun, dazzling and quirky, with ghosts and goblins around every corner.
The Kyogokudo novels are somber, moving, hypnotic, frustrating, and profound, and they mostly consist of characters standing around talking.
The Dàoshi is the hero of the hopping vampire flick; he burns paper talismans, imprisons ghosts in earthenware jugs, and slays fox spirits with a peachwood sword.
The hero of the Kyogokudo is a Shinto exorcist who doesn't believe in magic -- which is okay, because in that world, magic isn't real. He solves crimes by performing an exorcism he doesn't believe in, and the exorcism reveals the truth while unlocking the emotional conflicts of all the characters involved in the mystery. It's brilliant, really. But not at all compatible with the hopping vampire movie.
It may look similar because they both feature Asian exorcists, but fundamentally, like a fraction, they do not reduce. Oil and water.  Magic is real, or it isn't. The exorcist has power, or he doesn't. You can't combine these two elements; one will override the other.
What we're left with, in this case, is a Kyogokudo-style story. Without the brilliance that inspired Mouryo no Hako or Summer of the Ubume, Moonlight is closer to Scooby-Doo.  
And we're also left with a lesson on creativity.  On intersections, and why, sometimes, they fail.

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