When you look at Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, there is an illusion it creates that is undeniably petrifying and sensational at the same time. Watching Lost in the Stars somehow feels the same way. Behind many facades, there is a story of heart that unravels in the most neo-noir kind of form, reminiscent of old Hong Kong thrillers married with the presentation of new Asian action cinema. Released originally in 2022, Lost in the Stars comes to Netflix almost a whole year later with a bang. The 2-hour film is nail-biting from start to finish, and if you’re someone who likes the twisted tales of Park Chan-Wook-style thrillers, there is a lot to enjoy here. I don’t mean to be all praise for the film; there are some minute flaws, but the viewing experience is exactly what is expected from it.
Recently, a lot of Asian thrillers are an amalgamation of all the things people enjoy about Western action cinema. Take, for example, the Vietnamese film Fury or the Korean film Kill Boksoon. There is definitely a pattern and trend here, and it doesn’t always work in the positive. Stories can be lost in an overstimulated presentation, or the presentation can be fantastic, but the stories told can be terrible. There’s a good balance in this absurd story, which I later found to be inspired by true events. Wang Nuannuan’s (alias) story is, of course, a much simpler and very disheartening one. On the other hand, it is also one of determination and perseverance. The writers of this film have picked up the crux of this story and converted it into a thriller rather than an emotional drama.
Lost in the Stars is a very liberally creative take on the crux of this story, delivered in the most twisted manner possible. Before you go looking up the name I’ve just mentioned here; remember, you’ll get spoilers you don’t want to know before watching this movie. With that out of the picture, Lost in the Stars follows a loving husband, He Fei, whose wife seemingly vanishes into thin air when they’re celebrating their first anniversary in a small tourist spot in Thailand. It’s been 15 days since she’s been missing, and the police are unwilling to do anything for He Fei, making him resort to his own methods to find her with the help of top Chinese lawyer Chen Mai.
It seems fairly simple, but the complexity of the story lies in its poker-faced nature. We pretty much see the film from the perspective of a lost and desperate husband, making us forget the bizarre nature of the story sometimes. As said story progresses, we’re hit with googly after googly, which makes us feel like the truth behind the missing wife is slipping further away as time passes. Zhu Liong as He Fei is definitely the star of this film, as it is in his eyes that we see the story unravel. He’s impeccable as a loving husband who can’t survive without his wife. There’s desperation in every move of his. But on the other hand, the highlight is Shen Man, the strong female lawyer who is self-confident and extremely effective at what she does. She, too, has a sort of desperation in her to make sure things go right, and this missing wife’s case is solved. Most importantly, the bizarreness of the story really begins when the femme fatale, a woman who is pretending to be He Fei’s wife, shows up out of the blue. He Fei is certain she isn’t his wife, but there’s no evidence to prove that. In fact, all evidence points towards her being his actual wife (don’t worry, it’s nothing like Angelina Jolie’s heartbreaking Changeling). Already, you feel hooked, right?
The suspenseful music paired with the noir lighting adds to the edge-of-your-seat nature of the film, especially when there are inserts of Fast & Furious style driving sequences. Somehow, Chen Mai is capable of doing it all. There is one jarring thing about the film that makes the xenophobia of the Chinese against other Asian countries rather obvious, but it seems by the end that it stands redundant. Still, it comes across very clearly, much too often. At the same time, there are certain undertones (which will go into spoiler territory if I explain further) that add an extra special touch to this film, but simultaneously, they are common in much of the content put out from the country right now. The film does move into campy territory in the end; there’s something that shifts and makes it more dramatic and out there for added effect, which may disconcert viewers and change their opinions entirely. For me, it was tolerable, but it definitely leveled down the film a little bit.
I definitely recommend this film if you like a story with absurd twists and interesting symbolism. I really appreciate the usage of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which adds an element of fantasy to the whole thing. In proper Asian style, this is a genre-bender, and it’s fun because of that. An extra special part of this film is the use of English and how well it simply fits. Although, for the longest time, I didn’t know which country the film was based in, which irked me a lot because it insinuated that all South Asian countries are crime-ridden. Beware of the gut-punching reveal in the end, and enjoy the ride. I would give Lost in the Stars 3.5 out of 5 stars. It delivers a promise of thrills and weaves a complicated story that doesn’t get overwhelmed with distractions.