Three years after his autobiographic debut feature Winds of September (九降風), Tom Lin Shu-yu (林書宇) returns to the big screen with Starry Starry Night (星空), an exquisitely crafted rendition of Jimmy Liao’s (幾米) illustrated book of the same title. Like Lin’s first work, the film, which boasts skillfully rendered CG fantasies and a polished fairy-tale look, is about growing up and the loss of innocence, but this time from a teenage girl’s point of view.
China’s Josie Xu (徐嬌) plays 13-year-old Mei, the only child in a family that is on the way toward disintegration as the parents grow increasingly apart from each other. Distressed at home and unable to connect with schoolmates, Mei finds comfort in her doting grandfather (Kenneth Tsang, 曾江), who carves her wooden animals that keep her company when she feels alone.
Jay (Eric Lin, 林暉閔), a transfer student, catches Mei’s attention with his quietness and artistic inclination. Friendship buds and then flourishes between the two lonely souls, but the newly found happiness comes to an abrupt halt when Mei’s grandfather passes away and her parents announce their divorce. Distraught, the two friends decide to run away from their troubles.
To Lin’s credit, the film is a seemingly effortless balance between the real and the imagined. Folded paper animals come to life, and a train flies into Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. With these fantastical visions and Jake Pollock’s exuberant cinematography, Lin adeptly takes audiences on an adventure of childhood innocence and imagination.
The film could easily become a sumptuous void if it let technique prevail over humanity, but fortunately the director grounds the drama in the two young protagonists’ lives, using the fantastic sequences to convey emotions.
Directed by: Tom Lin Shu-yu (林書宇)
Starring: Josie Xu (徐嬌) as Mei, Eric Lin (林暉閔) as Jay, Rene Liu (劉若英) as Mei’s mother, Harlem Yu (瘐澄慶) as Mei’s father, Kenneth Tsang (曾江) as Mei’s grandfather
Language:Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Taiwan Release: Today
Lin is a versatile director, capable of both soberly observing hormone-raging teens in Winds of September and producing a tender portrait of female sensitivity that vividly captures the warmth and melancholy so tangibly evoked in Jimmy Liao’s illustrated world.
The adult cast members — including Guey Lun-mei (桂綸鎂), Rene Liu (劉若英) and Harlem Yu (庾澄慶) — give solid performances, but the film’s true stars are undoubtedly Xu, who made her first big-screen appearance in Stephen Chow’s (周星馳) 2008 CJ7 (長江七號), and Lin, a first-time actor with a natural talent. Together, the two make a convincing young couple having their first taste of love.
As a co-production between Taiwan’s Atom Cinema (原子映象) and the Huayi Brothers (華誼兄弟) of China, Starry Starry Night expanded from an originally planned small indie production to a filmic venture with a budget of US$7 million.
Fortunately, the collaboration did not compromise the filmmaker’s artistry and creativity.