For several years, Taiwan has been the go-to territory for nostalgic youth films, and Far East Film Festival has hosted many for audiences in Udine. FEFF20 follows by presenting Take Me to the Moon – except there’s a twist to this latest entry in the popular genre. Instead of delivering nostalgia via flashbacks or a decades-spanning story, Take Me to the Moon offers both and then lumps on the ultimate fantasy plot device: time travel! Director Hsieh Chun-Yi, whose debut feature Apolitical Romance (2013) played FEFF15, helms this fantasy-comedy-romance that takes obvious inspiration from Back to the Future (1985) and The Terminator (1984), and Birdy Fong’s screenplay is savvy enough to namecheck both films. Self-awareness is a bonus for contemporary pop culture-literate audiences.
Pop entertainment plays another role in Take Me to the Moon besides inspiring its plot. The story centers on a group of 1990s teens, and one of their number, the popular Emma (Vivian Sung), desires to make it as a superstar singer. The film opens twenty years after high school with Emma’s former classmate Wang (Jasper Liu) visiting her in Japan, where she’s already failed as a singer and now toils away at odd jobs. The visit includes a missed romantic connection and shortly after the miserable Emma passes away. Wang terribly regrets the loss of his friend and former high-school crush, but thanks to a fantastic plot device he gets to spend three days in 1997 before Emma won a talent audition that would spur her superstar ambitions.
Take Me to the Moon possesses plenty of audience-friendly charm. The film revels in its past-versus-present contrasts and wrings laughs from the motley group of school friends. The whole gang (six in number) belong to Band of the Moon, a music group backing lead singer Emma. Everyone possesses fanciful dreams and youthful idealism, and Wang’s status as a time traveler makes for poignant observations on the ironic realities of growing up. Some kids will achieve their dreams while others won’t, and that’s just the way it is. But in Emma’s case, her dream leads to tragedy so Wang endeavors to strangle her dream in its infancy by using any means to make her fail her audition. For a friend, that seems like a pretty foul thing to do.
No matter, the script neatly counters Wang’s sabotage by showing that one should still pursue their dreams – even when faced with a tragic end. The film also achieves surprising poignancy with Wang’s realization that there’s a price to pay for attempting to change history. These subtle shifts in story make for greater tension and conflict among the characters, and work well alongside the expected observations on youth and friendship. In the end, after offering winning comedy and universal affirmations, the film feels quietly bittersweet. Take Me to the Moon ultimately earns its place in its popular genre by presenting sadness and sacrifice right alongside victory.
The film title is drawn from a song by Tom Chang, a Taiwan singer-songwriter who died in 1997, and the film uses his real-life story as another avenue for Wang to attempt righting some wrongs. The leading cast has appeal and screen charisma. Jasper Liu possesses a gentle and caring screen presence, and Vivian Sung’s star continues to rise. Besides carrying this film impressively, Sung has been a quality mainstay in its genre – so much so that every single one of her nostalgic youth romance films has been selected to play at FEFF. Take Me to the Moon is a winning film that crosses geographical and cultural boundaries to deliver something with universal appeal. Stars with the talent and charisma of Vivian Sung are essential to making that happen.
A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Asia, Hsieh Chun-Yi has been a regular presence on the film festival circuit since 2008. His short film Braid (2011) earned him the Directors Guild of America Student Film Award for Best Asian American Student Filmmaker (East Region). His debut feature-length work Apolitical Romance (2013) received its international premiere at Far East Film Festival, and received positive notices for its entertaining exploration of the Taiwan-China divide. After directing Luca, a segment of the Taiwan-Italy-produced omnibus film Taipei Factory II (2014), Hsieh directed his sophomore feature-length effort, Take Me to the Moon.
2013 – Apolitical Romance
2017 – Take Me to the Moon