I don’t know about you but whenever I hear that saxophone playing in the background, I feel my whole body surrender to this feeling. I can’t quite explain the feeling itself, it’s a mixture of willingness to go along with the plot of a movie mixed with memories of my younger years. Years I’ve spent getting lost in these intriguing stories of femme fatales, tough men lost in a whirlpool of emotions and the realities of life kicking all of them hard. China Moon is an underrated nineties neo-noir thriller featuring a familiar story and an excellent cast.
We will be following homicide detective Kyle Bodine who falls in love with the wife of a wealthy banker. And I think you can already guess where the story goes from there. I’ll just add that the whole thing is happening in the hot, steamy, and moist state of Florida. There are huge similarities between this movie and early eighties classic Body Heat. Our femme fatale even wears the same white dress and meets her future lover in front of a bar. However, I think that these things take almost nothing away from the movie itself.
The casting choices were fucking sublime. Instead of getting some pretty boy to play the lead role, they got a short, bald, and scrawny Ed Harris. It was so refreshing to see someone who looks like the rest of us playing the main guy. And opposite of him we have stunningly gorgeous Madeleine Stowe who gave one hell of a performance. Her character is much more complex than you would initially think and she fucking pulled it off without a hitch.
Her beauty only emphasized Harris’s charisma and presence and proved that looks are not everything. We also have young Benicio Del Toro still finding his voice and convincing Charles Dance. China Moon was actually shot back in 1991 only to end up shelved for three fucking years after Orion’s bankruptcy. It perfectly balanced the romance with the rest of the plot not coming off as tacky.
Detective Kyle Bodine and his partner Dickey arrive at yet another murder scene. An environment Kyle uses to teach his young partner how to be a good homicide detective. To blow off some steam they go to a local bar and this is where he sees her. A dashing brunette sitting alone and drinking. Before she leaves, she smiles at Kyle, inviting him to follow her outside. And before he knew it, Kyle was swept off his feet. He also didn’t know that this is going to be the beginning of something passionate and dangerous.
After the first twenty minutes, you realize that the movie has everything you would want from a good neo-noir thriller. An intriguing plot, well-developed characters, a looming escalation, and a steamy atmosphere. And full-frontal nudity, we shouldn’t forget about the full-frontal nudity. We also see the casual remnants of certain kinds of male behavior on display. Detective Bodine leisurely engages in what can only be described as stalking and then uses his position of power to impress Rachel. This makes what happens next even more engaging.
And once it does, the movie totally captures the viewer’s attention. The title of the movie, China Moon, refers to the reflection of the full moon in the still waters of a lake Detective Bodine visits. And it adds an esoteric dimension to this very human story. Finally, if you’re looking for similar movies do check out Palmetto starring Woody Harrelson and Elisabeth Shue. And you could also check out the classic Body Heat.
Director: John Bailey
Writer: Roy Carlson
Cast: Ed Harris, Madeleine Stowe, Charles Dance, Benicio Del Toro, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Patricia Healy
Fun Facts: The boat Detective Bodine uses on the lake was actually a gift to the director John Bailey from Benicio Del Toro’s father. He did the building and the finishing works himself.