Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy {Children’s International Film Festival/CHIFF} – Film Review

8-year-old Hung (Lại Trường Phú) spends his days playing with his toy airplane along with his friend My (Khánh Nhu). Since losing his mother Hang (Thanh Hièn) to illness there has been a rift between Hung and his father Thanh (Ngọc Tuòng). Hung is then devastated to learn My’s family is moving. Scary thugs working for an evil land developer are threatening homeowners into selling their apartments.

Lost and feeling alone, Hung witnesses something fall to earth during a meteor shower one night. He is amazed to discover it is in fact the spaceship of an alien girl with amazing powers named Maika (Chu Diệp Anh). On Maika’s homeworld, her race communicates telepathically, so she has no social skills whatsoever. Hung promises to help Maika blend in and to find her lost friend.

Frighteningly, Nghia (Huyme) a billionaire and tech giant wants to kidnap Maika to use in his space travel interests. With a little help from Cu Béo (Tin Tin), Hung’s neighbour and frenemy, the trio will fight off the bad guys and get Maika back home.

Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy is a fun filled Vietnamese children’s adventure film is written and directed by Hàm Trần. While parallels to Spielberg’s ET: The Extra Terrestrial seem obvious, the movie is actually a very self-aware remake of 1970s Czechoslovakian kids show ‘Spadla z oblakov’ (She Fell From Clouds). The show became a hit in Vietnam in the 80/90s and is cheekily referenced throughout the movie itself.

This is a movie with a lot of heart and has an unexpectedly poignant theme throughout of overcoming the sadness of losing a loved one. Hung is a boy who loses people throughout his life whether it be saying goodbye to his mother, My, or Maika. Writer and director Hàm Trần’s message to his young audience is, “As long as you carry that love in your heart, they are always by your side”.

Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy is otherwise an especially light-hearted affair with its simple plot and slapstick comedy. The thugs Bull and Ngao who threaten Hung, his father and their neighbours are particularly goofy in their naughty behaviour and are not too frightening for young viewers. Some of the rude humour of the film, although innocent enough, I think may take umbrage with parents, however.

The film’s child actors are undeniably adorable and we see the friendship between the three characters grow over the course of the film. Chu Diệp Anh as Maika having an endearing lost and naive nature about her fits suitably for her role. Lại Trường Phú actually turns in a surprisingly varied performance where he plays not just a happy child but often one suffering from heartbreak.

My favourite is Tin Tin as the comedic relief character of spoilt little rich kid, Cu Béo. A role which at first irritated me (as he irritates Hung) but as we see more of him and he begins to help Hung and Maika, he grows on the viewer. His unfavourable relationship with his absentee father showing where his acting out stems from. But most of the biggest laughs of the film come from his foolish antics.

Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy does drag a little bit in its second half. A visit to Sun World (a Vietnamese fun park) was nice to see, providing opportunities to display the characters bonding, but this section, in my opinion, spoiled the pacing and lengthened the run time. Another criticism would be the acting in exclusively the English dub of the film which is hit and miss. This is very much a kids’ film but I can’t deny the superior version is subtitled which young children may likely be averse to.

Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy is just the sort of pleasant surprise which makes the Children’s International Film Festival such a blessing. A movie which is both entertaining for children while showing them another style of filmmaking. With a talented young cast and wholesome message, Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy makes for a fun time for the whole family.

Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy is currently playing as part of of the 2023 Children’s International Film Festival (CHIFF) until June 12.
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