At The Movies: Moon Man mines the comedy in space castaway story

Cleaner and handyman Dugu Yue (right) misses the launch back to Earth and finds himself the moon’s sole inhabitant. PHOTO: ENCORE FILMS

Moon Man (PG)

123 minutes, opens next Thursday

3 stars

The story: In 2033, the world’s nations have created a moon base to help defend Earth from an imminent asteroid strike. Among its hundreds of residents is cleaner and handyman Dugu Yue (Shen Teng). When an emergency arises, base commander Ma Lanxing (Ma Li) orders an immediate evacuation back to Earth. The tardy Yue misses the launch and finds himself the moon’s sole inhabitant. He has enough food and oxygen for several lifetimes, but has no way to get home.

Despite Moon Man containing too many space castaway movie tropes to count, this made-in-China movie, adapted from a South Korean comic book, is far from being another clone.

It basically asks: What if Sandra Bullock’s hyper-competent astronaut in Gravity (2013) was a bumbling, emotionally immature bachelor? What if Matt Damon’s solo spaceman in The Martian (2015) behaved like a normal, socially deprived human being and pined for the touch of his crush?

This sci-fi comedy about a castaway with a normal sex drive does go where other castaway movies have feared to tread, though the jokes about Yue’s frustrations are more cartoonish than anything actually racy. Think Bugs Bunny cross-dressing, not Jonah Hill or Seth Rogen caught with their pants down.

There are enough twists here to make this story of an average guy engineering his way out of a fix feel original and, yes, Chinese.

Ma and Shen are veterans of the renowned Mahua FunAge comedy troupe, and their easy chemistry helped propel Moon Man to the top of the domestic box office upon its release in late July and gross more than US$420 million (S$589 million) worldwide.

The film’s heart-warming moments, however, do not always work. There is convenient and unearned reliance on the goodness of humanity in tough times, for example.

In a movie that is so smart about the regression to childhood that occurs when a man becomes bored and lonely, the brotherhood-of-man and global-unity bits feel like a lapse in judgment.

Things come to life, however, when the tale takes satirical turns. There is a thread that must have been inspired by the story of Japanese comedian Nasubi, who in 1998 grabbed a television station’s challenge to lock himself in an apartment. Naked and penniless, the increasingly hairy and desperate man fed and clothed himself only with prizes he won in mail-in contests. Millions tuned in to watch his agony.

Yue, a nobody on Earth, becomes a Nasubi for an entire planet after his stranding.

Hot take: Moon Man is propelled upwards by good jokes, but dragged down to earth by a bungled feel-good message.

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