Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (1983)
Director - Chan Kuo-ming
DVD Released by : Celestial Pictures
Player reviewed with :Citizen JDVD 3820
Receiver reviewed with : N/A
 
Features:
Cantonese/Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 Soundtrack
English, Chinese, Bahasa Malaysia, and Bahasa Indonesia Subtitles
Not Enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs
New Trailer
Trailer for the Price of Love
Production Notes, Colour stills, Original Poster, Biography and Filmography
Running Time : 93 mins.
Region 3

The first time you watch Twinkle Twinkle Little Star you'll realize that it's a nonsense comedy of the highest order. A mish-mash of celluloid masquerading as a film, trussed-up as a sci-fi romp, but really it's an ADD test for the audience. Even an attempt to summarize what little plot there is would be sheer folly, but I'll give it a shot.

After a 'Star Wars' style SB logo and 'Superman' title sequence, a shooting star falls out of the night sky giving a poor country peasant the once-over with an X-File, which leads into a 'close encounter' scenario replete with police, reporters, mad scientists and… private detectives? Actually these two private dicks, Yi Tien and Kung Lun-pu make ends meet moonlighting (or is that daylighting?) as loan shark collectors, but their traveling dirt cart (don't ask), gets into a car accident on the street with the rich and spoiled Mr. Kuo and his fancy Mercedes. Before the 'please' - I mean 'P.C.' - I mean 'police' can even sort it all out, another vehicular disaster occurs as the beautiful, but unlucky Ah Zhen gets stuck over a air vent giving her purple dress the 'Marilyn Monroe' blow and all the male drivers an excuse to pile into each other. Unfortunately for Ah Zhen at work she promptly gets fired as a beautician because her doe-eyed looks keep distracting all her male co-workers and customers. After a failed attempt at death-by-perfume, this can all only logically lead into a big musical dance number with the aforementioned Mr. Kuo, who promises to rescue Ah Zhen from her cursed life.

What was that about nonsense? Ten minutes into the film and already the viewer is wondering, will our two intrepid heroes show up again? Will the groan-inducing Cantonese puns ever stop? Will the audience figure out what this movie is all about? Who knows, the film sure doesn't. Before we get to the end, the film will touch upon everything from such adult themes as group suicide, sexual chastity, the fleeting price of fame to even more musical dance numbers, and I haven't even mentioned the alien abductions yet.

And yet as incomprehensible as this all seems, by last 20 minutes it's almost worthwhile. When Yi Tien finally comes face to face with his alien abductors, the film takes a turn for the better with the dark foreboding interiors of the spaceship and its sinister purpose creating a marvelously tense atmosphere. Even then the film manages to keep its good humour with surprisingly well-realized special effects laced with sci-fi innuendo. The elaborate set of the alien ship is huge with multiple levels teeming with flashing lights and beeping gadgetry. Nothing new to traditional science-fiction shows, but novel for Asian cinema and well put together.

There is only one fight in whole film, but it's a doozey. Those expecting a Star Wars parody with the Darth Vader like villain on the back of the packaging will not be disappointed as the action delivers a dizzying mixture of East meets West sci-fi kung-fu ass-kicking. No, the special effects aren't perfect and you can see the florescent tubing of the light sabers, but all of that is forgotten as famed martial arts choreographer Ching Siu-tung and action director Teng Te-chiang produce a conflict of cosmic proportions that uses every inch of the set with devastating results.

This hilarious battle of will and wits is brimming with inventive gags and white knuckle fisticuffs. The ever shifting balance of power cleverly built into the fight as each gains and then promptly losses the upper hand is a shining example of how to keep the audience delighted, surprised and at the edge of their seats wondering what might happen next. That disconcerting sense of 'anything-can-happen' is what makes Asian filmmaking and in particular Hong Kong actioners so exhilarating. Furthermore, this is a true 'comedy' in the classical sense with the story going on even after the big fight, rare for a Shaw film.

Yi Tien as played by Yi Lei is unusual as the male lead, and the fearsomely visaged Tan Tien-nan as his gentle sidekick, Kung Lun-pu (Columbo, get it?) are somewhat amusing despite the lack of anything actually funny. Too bad Kung disappears half way through as I would have enjoyed seeing more of him. Cherie Chung Cho-hung is lovely in one of her earliest roles as the klutzy Ah Chen. Her character isn't any brighter than the guys, but as the put-upon damsel in distress she goes through quite an emotional wringer as even after everything they have gone through together, Ah Chen still has one last thing left to do proving she might just be more than she seems.

As part of Celestial's first wave of Shaw releases the DVD is presented in a letterboxed format. Like all their restorations the print is clean with no dirt or flecks. Grain is visible especially in the special effects shots, but that is to be expected with all the necessary optical printing. Contrast is fine with strong blacks although a few scenes are a touch dark. The image is soft with the film using a lot of different lighting set-ups, but for a non-anamorphic transfer, the picture is fairly detailed with no compression problems and good colour reproduction.

The disc features both post-synced Cantonese and Mandarin 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. The Mandarin track is weak with a thin sound range and is very harsh. The

Cantonese track, although still tinny is much stronger and is the preferred audio choice retaining the dialect's humourous wordplay and questionable punning.
As mentioned before, much of the comedy is derived from Cantonese puns, and here the English subtitles as translated from Mandarin are of no help. At their best, they present the literal meaning of the lines with the occasional exposition (Kung Lun-pu's picture ID with a photo of French actor Alain Delon is noted, but it doesn't help if you don't know who he is), and at their worst, the grammar can be as incomprehensible as the film with the added bonus of punctuation glitches throughout.

About the extras, whatever you do, don't watch the trailer first. It gives away all the best gags and ruins the surprise twists at the end. You've been warned.

The menus are all static, but have a more interesting look than when Celestial started standardizing all their menus. The problem though is that it's poorly designed and cumbersome to navigate. Basically, all the special features are linked page after page like a book. It forces you to start at the beginning every single time and manually scroll through every page until you get to where you want. Very time consuming and annoying. The stills and poster are worth a look once, and the bios are interesting and informative. The only other extra is the odd inclusion of a trailer for the drama, Price of Love.

Trading in on the popularity of Star Wars and released in 1983 at a cost of HK $10 million and taking over 2 years to make, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was a titanic undertaking and a box office failure HK $6,063,848. Critically it's a mess. Few of the card-board characters have any chemistry, the plot is non-existent, and chunks of it are just boring. Yet even without a narrative thrust the movie somehow becomes more than the sum of its parts. The leads are innocuous and the last 20 minutes alone are almost worth the price of admission.

Director Chan Kuo-ming has not made many movies, but here he has crafted the ultimate guilty pleasure, Asia's answer to Plan 9 from Outer Space. This is a terrible film, but if you get Cantonese humour (I admit I do), have a tolerance for the absurd, or are just a hardcore Star Wars fan then by all means take a look and find out if it's worth being one of my all time favorites. It also establishes without a doubt that these Shaw releases are more than worthwhile as they give us a chance to see films that frankly we would never otherwise and for that I'm grateful.

-Leon Ho

Reviewed 4/20/2004