'Starry Starry Night': Child actors brighten Taiwanese tale
A movie review of "Starry Starry Night," a somewhat treacly drama saved by child actors Hui-min Lin and Jiao Xu playing lonely kids who experience small measures of redemptive joy in friendship.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Starry Starry Night,' with Hui-min Lin, Jiao Xu, Harlem Yu, Rene Liu. Written and directed by Tom Lin, based on a book by Jimmy Liao. 100 minutes. Rated PG. In Mandarin, with English subtitles. Pacific Place.
"Starry Starry Night" is a somewhat clunky family movie about childhood escapism, alternating a little too conveniently between the grim and the adorable.
Yet this Taiwanese tale, based on a picture book by Jimmy Liao and directed by Tom Lin ("Winds of September"), is ultimately stirring.
The reason: two very persuasive performances by the film's young lead actor and actress, whose stoic, miserable characters experience small measures of redemptive joy in friendship.
Despite Lin's heavy, ill-advised reliance on computer-generated magic to charm us with kids' imaginative fantasies, "Starry Starry Night's" most powerful moment actually comes in a close-up of two human faces.
Lonely 13-year-old Jie (written as "Jay" in English subtitles, and played by Hui-min Lin), a talented artist sitting under a night sky, suddenly looks at Mei (Jiao Xu), a same-age, kindred soul he has known briefly. While Mei studies the stars, Jie's wide eyes capture his surprised, grateful awareness of a meaningful love awakening in his secretive life.
Xu has her own, equally lovely moments. Her laconic, neglected Mei is a schoolgirl versed in art history and yearning for earlier, happier times spent with now-contentious parents (Harlem Yu, Rene Liu).
Director Lin transforms scenes — often unnecessarily — into fanciful extensions of Mei's unspoken emotions, creating such effects as a crowd of living wooden animals and the distressing sight of the world crumbling into jigsaw-puzzle pieces.
The film's script, cowritten by Lin, has problems with proportion and balance, taking forever to get to "Starry Starry Night's" payoff scenes (reminiscent of Charles Laughton's classic "The Night of the Hunter") finding Mei and Jie alone together in the woods. It's worth the wait, however, just to see Lin get so much from his youthful talents.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org