Film Reviews

Asian Bucket List: Starry Starry Night

A portrayal of both growing pleasures and pains based on the Taiwanese illustrated novel of the same name, Starry Starry Night is a movie that will rouse even the hardest of hearts. Tom Shu-Yu Lin complements varied visuals with a carefully chosen soundtrack, rendering his movie a captivating spectacle as well as a touching tale.

Starry Starry Night is one of those films you can tell will be achingly beautiful from the moment it begins. A lonely wooden boat rocking on a lake and a house with orange glowing windows nestled among the trees feature among its opening shots. The fairy-tale atmosphere is enhanced by a gentle piano accompaniment.

“She finds herself navigating an increasingly difficult life”

But thirteen year old Mei’s (Xu Jiao) world is no fairy-tale. Having left her grandfather’s picturesque house for one in the city, she finds herself navigating an increasingly difficult life. Despite their best efforts to conceal it, she know that her parent’s relationship is on the rocks. Her mother is unsatisfied with her job and distant most of the time, compensating her absence with gifts.

Visual metaphors are central to Tom Shu-Yu Lin’s depiction of Mei’s struggles. And while they may be simple to understand, they are nonetheless striking. First come the snowflakes-paper cut-outs stuck on the windows of houses and more bizarrely, real ones falling inside a train station. Learning to cope with the fact of transience is something we see Mei wrestle when her grandfather dies. It is shortly after this that she loses a piece from her puzzle of Van Gogh’s masterpiece, a reflection of her frustrated search for completeness.

“We’re only given subtle hints about his troubles”

Hope enters Mei’s life in the form of Jay (Eric Lin Hui-min), the new boy in class. He is a troublesome student with a penchant for drawing. We’re only given subtle hints about his troubles at home. Whether he’s leaving class without permission or shoplifting stationary, his disregard of consequences shocks Mei only to then intrigue her. He remains indifferent towards her until she stands up to a group of boys bullying him.

“The pair successfully create a world of their own”

When Mei moves in on the group, the camera pauses on the schoolyard wall where her shadow turns into that of a fierce dragon. Bravery becomes battle and bullies are swallowed up as Tom Shu-Yu Lin gives us a glimpse of how a naïve psyche may cope with the harsh realities of life. We journey into the child’s mind again when the origami animals Mei and Jay make for a school project come to life. Despite their individual hardships, the pair successfully create a world of their own.

“Mei develops both sensitivity and tact”

As they become closer, Mei develops both sensitivity and tact. In other words, she matures. When her mother is in a melancholy mood at a restaurant, for instance, Mei takes the opportunity to ask about her state of mind. This contrasts sharply with her aloofness earlier in the film. Tom Shu-Yu Lin swaps his go-to nostalgic piano melodies for a jaunty song to which the pair dance at the mother’s behest, the daughter humouring her. It’s half awkward and half endearing-much like the process of growing up itself.

Their journey will be filled with hopes, trials and poignant moments of vulnerability”

But when Mei’s parents officially announce their divorce, it’s all too much and too soon for her. She runs away to her grandfather’s house in the mountains, taking Jay with her. Unbeknown to the pair, their journey will be filled with hopes, trials and poignant moments of vulnerability.


Ayisha Sharma

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Image Courtesy of Empty Kingdom

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