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Starry Starry Night ("Xing Kong")

Quebec Premiere
  • Taiwan
  • 2011
  • 98 mins
  • 35mm
  • Mandarin
  • English (subtitles)

“Lin conjures up a visual feast… a flight of fancy well worth taking” – James Marsh, TWITCHFILM

“Lin’s good-looking and heartfelt film is deserving of more stars than in its title” – Melissa Leong, NATIONAL POST

Mei fondly remembers her childhood in the mountains with her grandparents, and the fulfillment she got from gazing up at the canopy of the cosmos on a clear night. Those days are gone now. Mei is entering high school, her parents’ marriage is collapsing and the health of her beloved grandpa is declining precipitously. All that and she can’t find the final piece of her jigsaw puzzle of Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night”. Worries weigh heavily on the girl, but clouds do have their silver linings. She’s taken an instant liking to the new boy in school, the small but tough one with the sketchbook and the brooding demeanour. Sometimes Mei’s on top of the world, sometimes she’s down in the pits. But she’s never totally alone…

Softly surreal and quite simply sublime, STARRY STARRY NIGHT is a flawless, sparkling little gem of a movie, a jewel in the firmament of this year’s Fantasia programming. It’s an adaptation of popular Taiwanese illustrator/author Jimmy Liao’s young-adult picture-novel, an empathic and genuinely affecting epic-in-miniature with a gently hallucinatory bent. In hands even a touch less certain than those of young but immensely promising director Tom Lin, the story’s adolescent angst and puppy love, moments of wonder and flashes of fantasy would likely have come across as unbearable, candy-coated crap. But Lin calibrates rhythm and tone so capably — almost magically in fact — that what emerges is nothing short of exquisite.

What Lin originally envisioned as “a small art-house movie” caught the attention of mighty Mainland studio Huayi Brothers, blessing this rare Taiwan/PRC co-production with a budget big enough to bestow upon it a breathtaking beauty, be it as a commuter train sails through a glorious apparition of Van Gogh’s nightscape, as a vast origami menagerie assembles in the footsteps of our endearing protagonists — or as a sunset by the lake offers a moment of quiet reflection. Credit is due to the exceptional post-rock score by World’s End Girlfriend (Tokyo’s Katsuhiko Maeda, who also scored AIR DOLL). At the heart of STARRY STARRY NIGHT, however, is the first-class performance by Xu Jiao (CJ7), as Mei. Already a seasoned, award-winning screen vet at 15, Xu, like Lin, is a rising star to watch in the heavens of Chinese cinema.

— Rupert Bottenberg