Starry is the Night

Ah, a chance to see Brigitte Lin as just your normal everyday person. Not sending poisoned darts or fireballs at her enemies or slowly mutating into another sex. Just slow dancing, drinking champagne out of a shoe, vomiting, smoking - acting like a real human being!

Unfortunately, it  does not make for a very exciting film. Brigitte is a school counselor who has an affair with a student who is much younger than she is. As the affair progresses - she has flashbacks to an unhappy affair that she had back in college with a professor (George Lam) that in some ways mirrors this one. Not unexpectedly, the two affairs intersect. This type of film is not really my cup of tea - basic soap opera - but it’s always a pleasure to spend some time with Brigitte - though preferably in whirling swirling baleful glare mode!

My rating for this film: 5.0

 Reviewed by YTSL

If Ann Hui were a man, I can imagine that she would be described as misogynistic by quite a few people on the basis of some of her work. It's not that women do not have prominent parts in her films (In fact, I would describe one of her saving graces as the ability to get the likes of Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia to grace such works as this one).  And it's not at all that her movies are exploitative in terms of being full of sexual titillation, violence on women (this being a Hong Kong movie, Brigitte Lin getting urinated on by a little boy, being slapped a couple of times and having paint thrown in anger at her by her boyfriend, being made to wash toilets and drink beer from a shoe is NOT that awful...) or both.  However, it seems to me that the female protagonists in this "new wave" director's productions are among the unhappiest women I have ever seen depicted in Hong Kong films; individuals who are often in not very good relationships and positions which they could be said to have gotten themselves into.

To be fair:  I will admit that STARRY IS THE NIGHT is only the third Ann Hui-helmed production that I have seen (after "Song of the Exile" – a 1990 semi-autobiographical effort which stars Maggie Cheung and Luk Siu-Fan -- and "Ah Kam", the 1996 movie during whose filming Michelle Yeoh infamously suffered her most serious injury to date).  However, I swear that after this third depressing experience (which didn't actually start off sadly but whose ill-fated ending one could see coming a mile away), I do not intend to watch any more films made by the consistent producer of respected dramatic works that nevertheless are box office poison.

In another bid at fairness, one could say that, like her protege, Stanley Kwan, Ann Hui seems to have a knack for coaxing winning performances out of actresses and actors.  A case in point:  David Ng (who plays an eighteen year old youth who falls in love with a forty year old woman) was named the Best Newcomer at the Hong Kong Film Awards for his performance in STARRY IS THE NIGHT.  And the undoubted lead who makes this movie watchable, Brigitte Lin, is fantastic...but that's what we have come to expect of this wonderful actress as well as -- okay, I know I'm gushing but... -- wondrous beauty.

On a less emotional note:  STARRY IS THE NIGHT also disappoints in that although Ann Hui incorporates political elements into the intentionally serious film by doing such as making references to the civil unrest in 1967 and having a sympathetic character (portrayed by Derek Yee) be a college friend of Brigitte's character who went on to become a councilman, these are very much secondary to the chronicling of the problematic love affairs and life of a largely apolitical woman.  As examples:  In one scene, college student Brigitte and her professor lover (the latter of whom is portrayed by George Lam) worry more about being inadvertently captured on film by cameramen intent on covering a demonstration than the protest itself, its causes and the demonstrators' demands; and later in the movie, the lesson a politician learns from losing a contest seems to be relevant to the plot only because it gets converted into love advice for his long-time friend.

IMHO, it is a pity that this 1988 Shaw Brothers production was not even more modest (in its aspirations) than it is in its present form.  There is at least one not entirely charmless love story in all this that I really would not have minded being the primary focus of the movie.  It might also have been interesting if the friendships between Brigitte Lin's character and two of her friends -- one played by Derek Yee; the other being a college room-mate named Vivian to whom the protagonist, some twenty years on, asks:  "You didn't become a nun because of me, did you?" -- had been developed or at least explored more.

As it is, STARRY IS THE NIGHT does present fans of its star with an opportunity to watch Brigitte Lin acting as a fairly normal, fallible as well as engaging, human being at two different stages in her life.  It is interesting that in the year that this film was made (1988), the now retired actress was not all that close in age to either the college student or experienced woman who she convincingly portrayed in this one movie.  Although I would hesitate even to recommend this dramatic production to all admirers of Brigitte Lin (some of her fans might be somewhat disappointed by the character she essays here being not entirely respectable), there are enough (alternately) delightful and interesting bits in this work that make it ultimately worthwhile – even if far from completely satisfactory -- for me.  At this juncture though, I must admit to my judgement being liable to be somewhat questionable since I really can be quite happy to do such as watch Ms. Lin – as occurs in this movie -- having her hair washed, cut and reacting to the finished result!

My rating for the film:  7.