Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

What an astonishing and confusing mess this Shaw Brothers film is! I sat there in wonderment and bemusement that such a film could be made – what were they thinking? Of course, by the time this was released in 1983 the Shaw Brothers had fallen on hard times. Their bread and butter for the previous decade had been the martial arts films and they had completely lost their box office appeal. So Shaw Brothers was frantically searching for the next big thing, but this clearly was not it. According to the DVD notes, this film took two years, six scriptwriters and HK$10 million to produce – the six scriptwriters is easy to discern and one suspects that much of the two years was spent thinking how this film could be saved.
Cherie Chung, Paul Che, David Lo, Tan Tien Nam, James Yi Lui
One senses that in the Shaw’s hopes that this film would turn their financial misfortunes around they threw everything into the pot, stirred, boiled and crossed their fingers. It has sci-fi elements, a mad scientist/werewolf, musical videos, slapstick comedy, screwball comedy, vaudeville comedy, kung fu (provided by Ching Siu-tung), the perils of Pauline and a touch of romance. It also has about a two minute scene in which Cherie Chung does a Marilyn Monroe The Seven Year Itch imitation of her dress blowing over her head that causes a series of car accidents and for me was the highlight of this film. Some of the individual set pieces work decently on their own and a few of the comedy routines had me cracking up but it all hangs together like stray clothing on a line – the narrative is totally incoherent and bounces around like an out of control helium balloon.
Oddly and perhaps not wisely, Shaw chose Alex Cheung to direct this near last gasp of theirs (they were to close their film production unit in 1984 and focus on television). Alex Cheung was one of the pioneers of what is called the “New Wave” in Hong Kong films that began in the late 1970’s when a number of young directors with a background in TV turned to film and introduced a different sense of aesthetics that was more contemporary, realistic and experimental. These filmmakers energized the film scene for a few years with their very personal edgy and often-bleak films before most of them were either deemed too commercially unsuccessful and their careers languished or they were brought into the mainstream of HK film.
Some of the other New Wave directors that made an impact were Tsui Hark, Ann Hui, Patrick Tam, Allen Fong, Kirk Wong and Yim Ho. Before his entry into film, Cheung was considered one of the more innovative TV directors and took his shows into areas that HK television had not really experimented with. One critic called him a “whiz kid” and his shows for CID, Taxi Driver and Four-eyed Detective were judged to be some of the best TV that HK produced. In 1979 he moved into film with Cops and Robbers and then in 1981 he directed Man on the Brink – both films were met with critical success (Cheung received the Golden Horse Best Director award for his second film) if not commercial success. They were taut lean intense suspense tales that explored the grittier side of Hong Kong society. After Twinkle – Cheung was only to direct five more films that received little recognition (Danger has Two Faces, Imaginary Suspense, Framed, Midnight Caller and Made in Heaven). One can only wonder how much his career was adversely affected by this film.
You would almost have to be a mathematician to connect the dots of this film’s so-called plot and I have trouble balancing my checkbook (actually I don’t even bother), but here goes a sketchy rundown. After the Cherie Chung dress over the head sighting (lets replay that one again!), we find her working as a clerk in the cosmetics section of a department store. Her supervisor (Ha Ping) harangues her for distracting customers and the big boss looks on as Cherie gets something in her eye and can’t stop winking – leading to the elderly boss thinking she is flirting with him and suffering from a heart attack. She is fired at which time the son (David Lo) of a wealthy man (Ching Miao) enters to the accompaniment of a music video and falls in love with her and takes her home to meet dad. Or I should say – to pass dad’s test. He wants two things from his daughter-in-law – brains and her virginity in tact. Nothing second hand in his home – to which he proceeds to show that he in fact . . . cut off his second hand – it’s that kind of humor folks.

It turns out that as cute as Cherie is, she is as dumb as a stone – but her virginity is right where it should be – until she is abducted by aliens and possibly deflowered. The film liberally parodies both Close Encounters and Star Wars. Dumped by her fiancé – she tries to kill herself but is rescued by a private investigator – James Yi Lui (one of the top comedians of the 1970’s) and his assistant (the scary looking Tam Tin Nam). After this I started losing it – but there is a werewolf, a Darth Vader laser light duel, Cherie becomes famous during another music video, a skit collecting money from a family of 16 – and so much more including a huge food fight that had Tsui Hark and Alfred Cheung among others – but little of it made sense in the flow of the film.

There is a certain fascination in watching this train go off the tracks, but much of it was quite tedious at times, while being somewhat amusing at other times. Cherie is adorable as usual, but I can’t say she had much allowance for dramatic range here as her expressions go from dim to dazed.

My rating for this film: 5.0

Note: Information regarding Alex Cheung is from the book published by the HKIFF - Hong Kong New Wave - Twenty Years After.