Movie review: Take me to the moon

This time-traveling movie of youth and pursuing one’s dreams is a fitting tribute to the late singer Chang Yu-sheng, but for those unfamiliar with the cultural references or 1990s Taiwan, it will be hard to relate to

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

Thu, Dec 07, 2017 - Page 14

Those who were high schoolers in late 1990s Taiwan will definitely feel a special connection with Take Me to the Moon, especially fans of singer-songwriter Chang Yu-sheng (張雨生), who died at age 31 in a car crash in 1997.

Disclaimer: this reviewer fits both criteria, and it was a bit hard to fight through the various welling emotions to remain impartial for this review. But this shows that the movie captured the essence of that time well, and it will surely bank on nostalgia for a big part of its box office receipts.

But for those who don’t have the same experience, it’s probably another well-produced but rather run-of-the-mill, time-traveling tale about youth, unrequited love and chasing one’s dreams — a favorite topic with mainstream Taiwanese filmmakers. There’s also plenty of Chang references, so perhaps some homework is required before watching for those unfamiliar with his music.

While the film is nothing groundbreaking, it is entertaining nevertheless, with decent pacing, balanced acting and a fairly solid plot with just a few holes, which is a feat because time-traveling stories often baffle audiences. It’s far from perfect though, especially the rushed ending, but it is a fairy tale after all.

With a title lifted directly from Chang’s 1992 hit song, Take Me to the Moon (帶我去月球) is set in 1997 and features a Chang cover band on the eve of high school graduation. To prevent a bleak future for lead singer En-pei (Vivian Sung, 宋芸樺), guitarist Cheng-hsiang (Jasper Liu, 劉以豪) travels back 20 years to essentially sabotage her efforts to become a pop star. Hijinks ensue as he resorts to desperate measures to stop her from going to an audition, while trying to convince his friends that he came from the future.

UNTAPPED TALENT

Through 2014’s Cafe. Waiting. Love (等一個人咖啡) and 2015’s Our Times (我的少女時代), Sung has become a darling of mainstream youth dramedies, and she continues to play the role well. It would be nice to see her take on more of a variety of roles as the talent seems to be there, but unfortunately her next film is still a romantic comedy set on a college campus. This is Liu’s second time playing a lead role in a feature film, and he also does a solid job handling the nuances of being a 38-year-old man in an 18-year-old body.

Lu Hsueh-feng (呂雪鳳), who won a Golden Horse for her supporting role in the 2015 blockbuster Thanatos, Drunk (醉.生夢死), is somewhat limited in this film as the archetypal magical crazy lady who facilitates Cheng-hsiang’s time travel. Her role seems somewhat forced and stereotypical here, which doesn’t give her talent justice.

Much attention is put into recreating 1997, starting from the popular high school hangout of Ximending (西門町) to pop culture references, the icing on the cake being the use of NT$50 bills (it seems like they made the characters’ taxi fare in one scene NT$150 just for this purpose). Twenty years doesn’t seem like a long time, but those who went through that period will pick up all the subtle references.

Ultimately, it’s an ode to Chang, who died 20 years ago last month. His work became darker and more mature in his final years, but he started out as the clean-cut boy next door with a high-pitched Air Supply voice who wrote about innocent love (Thinking of You Everyday, 天天想你) and chasing your dreams (My Future is Not a Dream, 我的未來不是夢) — exactly the themes in this movie.

Reprised versions of Chang’s songs constitute the bulk of the soundtrack, many of them covered by Sung, and fans are treated to a painstakingly recreated version of his final concert. It’s surprising to find out that instead of using old footage of Chang, the filmmakers actually cast local folk rocker Birdman (日京江羽人) as Chang and used 3D technology to make the scene. Birdman, who does bear a resemblance to Chang, reportedly spent more than 100 hours watching footage in order to learn his mannerisms, and one can barely tell that it’s not the real person.

Chang’s career was full of ups and downs as he tried to move away from mainstream pop, later being forced to compromise as his experimental album (by Taiwanese pop standards) flopped. He later found success as a producer before his life was cut short.

It’s not easy pursuing one’s dreams, even after you make it big like Chang, this film seems to say. It is truly a fitting tribute to a lost talent.