Tom Lin's latest endeavor may be his definite
ticket to international recognition, if Starry Starry Night makes it out
of Taiwan (always somewhat of a gamble). It's a film with enough
potential to appeal to a wide audience while at the same time
maintaining its artistic integrity and firm traces of Lin's own personal
voice. One thing is certain though, the result is one of the sweetest
and most endearing films of 2011, warmly recommended to brighten up one
of the upcoming winter evenings.
Lin has made some first-grade career choices these past few years. After
brushing up his skills as first assistant director for a couple of
quality productions (Spider Lilies, The Wayward Cloud, Do Over) and helming his very own first feature film (Winds of September),
he now tackles the adaptation of a popular illustrated novel by Jimmy
Liao. A smart move that landed him some extra budget to play around
with, obviously well-spent.
Starry Starry Night is the slightly fantastical tale of Mei, a 13-years
old girl trying to deal with growing up, while still escaping to her own
fantasy world when real-life problems prove to be too daunting to face.
Mei finds a companion in Lee, an introverted young boy who just
transferred from another school into Mei's class. When Mei's parents
decide on a divorce, Mei runs off with Lee in search of a moment of
untainted happiness and maybe even some romance.
The film is told completely from the perspective of Mei. Lin could've
grabbed this opportunity to lose himself in overly detailed fantastical
dreamworlds, instead he keeps the feel of Starry Starry Nights much more
down to earth, limiting most fantastical elements to background details
or small touch-ups left and right. It gives the film a more mature
atmosphere while still respecting the world of the main characters and
their somewhat immature behavior.
Lin impresses royally with the film's visual style. Moody, warm and
colorful, but also with a more serious and grim edge during the first,
more reality-based half of the film. The CG is remarkably well
accomplished, being both technically and aesthetically pleasing. One
scene in particular, near the end of the film (the dream with the jigsaw
puzzles) turns out to be a real stunner. Starry Starry Night is yet
another film keeping the aesthetically honor of Taiwanese cinema high.
The soundtrack is a bit more on the safe side (as is usually the case
with this kind of film). Starry Starry Night features a quality score
with quite a few agreeable and atmopsheric tracks, but it does little
more than support the scenes Lin had in mind. I prefer my soundtracks to
be a bit more defining and out there, but I must say that the music
here does add a layer of sugar-coated softness and glow that benefits
the overall atmosphere.
As for the acting, Jiao Xu carries most of the film on her shoulders. Discovered in Stephen Chow's CJ7 she is now clearly expanding her reach into more complex and demanding
roles. Lin gives her plenty of room to sparkle and Xu clearly grabbed
that chance with both hands. Her performance is outstanding and gives a
lot of extra shine to the Mei character. Eric Lin supports her pretty
well, the rest of the secondary cast is solid but clearly not the main
focus of Starry Starry Night.
If the poster art looks somewhat familiar, it may be because Woody Allen
used the same Van Gogh painting to promote his latest film, Midnight In
Paris (or because you've seen the Van Gogh painting before of course).
The painting is more relevant for Starry Starry Night though, as it is
actively featured during one of the key scenes and it is used to flesh
out the key morale of the film. The whole art angle within Lin's film
might feel a bit forced at first, but it does pay off rather well as the
films progresses and it finds a perfect conclusion in the final scene.
While the epilogue is quite mushy and even sentimental, Lin shows his
true mastership by making you believe this was the only ending possible.
You can very well call it a feel-good Hollywood finale (and there is
little to contradict that), but it's executed with so much class and
warmth that any other conclusion would've felt wrong and out of place.
The final shot is of stunning, unprecedented beauty and will leave you
with a warm, contented feeling that carries on well beyond the last
credits have disappeared from the screen.
Tom Lin paints one of the dearest, warmest and most charming films of
the year. Starry Starry Night is a beautiful and imaginative trip into
the mind of a 13-year old girl, exploring her world and dealing with her
problems. The film has its fair share of memorable scenes and a truly
magnificent ending that will keep you comfortably warm during these
cold, rainy winter days. I'm already looking out for Lin's next film as
I'm sure there's still a lot of unexplored potential left in him. For
now though, I'll just recommend Starry Starry Nights and hope that it
will reach a big, loving audience that cherishes it accordingly.
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