Sunday, July 17, 2016

China Moon (1994) Body Heat Redux

Directed by John Bailey, written by Roy Carlson, cinematography by Willy Kurant. The film stars Ed Harris, Madeleine Stowe, Charles Dance, Patricia Healy, Benicio Del Toro, Tim Powell, and Pruitt Taylor Vince. The film was completed in 1991 and not released till 1994.

60 years after James M. Cain's novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, 51 years after its first uncredited screen adaptation Ossessione (1943), 48 years after its official adaptation Tay Garnett's The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and 13 years after both Lawrence Kasdan's update Body Heat (1981) and  Bob Rafelson's remake The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) come's China Moon, the same basic story of housewife Rachel Munro (Stowe) out to do her husband Rupert Munro (Dance) harm. The film even takes place again like Body Heat in Florida. The tweeks on the basic story are that this time the housewife is abused physically and mentally. Her husband, a bank president, is a wealthy philanderer. This go round the wife cozzies up to a homicide detective Kyle Bodine (Harris).

The film starts with a sequence of an illicit tryst at the Calypso Heaven Motel between Rupert and one of his bank employees Adel (Healy). The two are caught by a peeper on camera.

We segue into a crime scene. Low rent neighborhood. A woman has been murdered. Two homicide detectives Bodine and a very Hispanic looking Lamar Dickey (Del Toro) arrive to investigate. Bodine is the lead detective, Dickey appears to be still somewhat in training. Bodine is efficient, smart, and deduces the situation within minutes.

Kyle Bodine (Harris)

Lamar Dickey (Del Torro)

Benicio Del Toro, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Ed Harris

We do the followup to the coroner's. Après autopsy Bodine and Dickey wind down to the Blues at JJ's Lounge. Beer & Blues. Kyle kicks back. Lamar gets loose. Kyle is kind of shy around women. He's a lonely man, strong but vulnerable. Beer and nature takes it's course and Kyle gets a wandering eye. He oogles ravishing Rachel. Rachel gives him the hook look. Kyle is smitten. Kyle takes the bait. Kyle is love sick.

JJ Lounge


Rachel plays hard to get. Kyle comes on strong. Rachel has to split, mission accomplished. Kyle can be played.

The photos of Rupert's hot sheet motel shenanigans eventually make their way into Rachel's hands. At this point we assume that Rachel has hired a PI to get the dirt on Rupert. Their marriage is disintegrating fast. Bodine and Dickey catch a domestic violence squeal to Rachel and Rupert's house. Rachel's nose is bloodied, it sets the stage for what is to come.

Rupert is off business tripping. Rachel and Kyle go skinny dipping. Rachel gets randy. Kyle is cooked. Hook set hard.

Rachel decides to leave Rupert for Kyle. She makes plans. Romantic rendezvous. Rupert comes home early. Finds Rachel packin'. Rupert starts slapin'. He bounces her around the room. Rachel is ready. Rachel's 9mm starts barkin'. Rupert is rubbed out.


Rachel calls Kyle. Tells him the score. He comes to investigate. Kyle tells Rachel to call the police. Rachel tells Kyle she bought the gun black market. Looks bad. Looks premeditated. Kyle decides to help cover it up.

Of course it all goes Noirsville in a predictable manner but with some interesting twists along the way that are admittedly filmed beautifully.


Ed Harris is good as the sympatico Kyle Bodine. Madeleine Stowe treads familiar femme fatale territory she has a slight Elizabeth Taylor vibe going for her. Benicio Del Toro though is a bit miscast as Dickey, and his portrayal seems a bit uneven. He goes from a bit of a fumbler on the first case depicted to a seasoned expert when he, all of a sudden out of left field, takes the lead on the Munro murder investigation.Even if it's depicted the way it is to convey that Dickey is just playing dumb, it is not convincing.  It's a bit of a jar. It is either the fault of the screenplay or that of the director. The ending also seems both rushed and flawed, and  it's too syrupy too sweet.

China Moon is worth a view,  it's a good primer on how a neo noir ought to at least look, but it's not an essential, it's like a "B" grade Neo.   Watch for Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets featuring Sam Myers during the JJ's Lounge sequence. Screencaps are from the MGM DVD. 6.5-7/10.

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