One of the films I was upset about missing at both the New York Asian Film Festival and the Fantasia International Film Festival was Tom Lin’s Taiwanese drama, Starry Starry Night. The film, which is an adaptation of Jimmy Liao’s illustrated novel, follows the life of a 13 year old girl, Mei (Josie Xu), whose life seems to be falling apart. Her parents are on the verge of getting a divorce and she doesn’t really fit in at school even when people try to include her. She only finds solace in putting together her puzzles and escaping to her imagination where the sun always shines and she walks around with her living origami animals. When she finds out that one piece is missing from her puzzle, that’s when her problems truly begin to take form.
One day a transfer student named Jay joins her class. Eventually, after much prying, she forges a relationship with Jay (Eric Lin) that eventually leads to the two running away to her grandfather’s cabin in the forest. On this adventure she realizes that Jay has his own problems too and that they both seem to be missing a piece that they each can replace.
Though it may be a visceral feature, Starry Starry Night isn’t for the impatient. The film moves slowly and deliberately, constantly focusing on the characters and their struggles in an attempt to make sure you see everything from their perspective rather than trying to muddle its narrative by diving deeply into the stories of all the other characters. If you can handle that then you will be rewarded with an intelligent and touching piece of Asian cinema that uses a simple metaphor of a missing puzzle piece to build an entire story about two troubled teenagers whose paths cross. Best of all, the film ties up its loose ends and brings the audience closure in a touching and clever way that I won’t spoil.
There were times in the movie where I felt that director Lin was trying too hard to get us to sympathize with Mei and Jay and trying to get us in their shoes. Halfway through the second act I’m pretty sure all of our feelings for each character were solidified and didn’t need any additional reasons for us to pity them. Other than that, the only other truly mediocre aspect was the acting, it wasn’t anything special but at least it was good enough to not detract from the quality of the story or feature as a whole.
Starry Starry Night’s strongest attribute is its cinematography and its fascinating inclusion of effects that help visualize the imagination of our two leads. There are two scenes that stick out to me. One where Mei tries to help Jay when he’s getting picked on and you see her shadow turn into a dragon-like monster as she tries to fight the bullies and another when she imagines her three-legged blue elephant walking around town with her as she visits her grandfather in the hospital. I may mention two scenes with effects but there is no denying that even simple interior and dialogue driven scenes are captured with style.
Overall, Starry Starry Night is like the small, tightly wrapped present that you didn’t ask for for Christmas but ends up being a gift that you really enjoy. It may not be the most original thing you’ll see, but the movie has a solid structure, a smart narrative and is a film that’s full of purpose. It’s also beautifully shot and without a visually dull moment. If you have the chance and enjoy a good, sweet drama every once in a while, be sure to check out this one from the island of Taiwan.
Rating: A beautiful and charming piece of childhood escapism (6.9/10)