Even by the standards of what gets reviewed here Maika: The Girl From Another Galaxy has an odd background. It’s a Vietnamese kids’ film based on a Czechoslovakian TV show that ran from 1978 to 1983. And then after getting noticed at Sundance it got picked up for US release by Well Go USA who sent me a screener.
It’s been a year since Hung’s (Lai Truong Phu) mother died. Now he and his father Thanh (Ngòc Tuòng) live in an apartment above his father’s cell phone repair shop. Ever since his only friend My (Khánh Như) and her family moved out Hung has been left on his own as his father works long hours both in his shop and fending off the goons the building’s owner has hired to force everyone out.
Then one night Hung sees a glowing purple object streak across the sky and crash into a nearby lake. No, it’s not the return of Prince, it’s Maika (Chu Dièp Anh, voiced by Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), an alien who quickly takes the form of a young girl, albeit one with purple hair. But he’s not the only one who noticed her arrival. Nghia (Huyme) an even more villainous version of Elon Musk is looking for her and her ship to use in his own spacefaring plans.
Writer/director Ham Tran (Journey from the Fall, Bitcoin Heist) began work on Maika: The Girl From Another Galaxy shortly after the death of his own mother and you can sense that in the way Hung and his father’s grief is handled. Despite that this isn’t an overly serious or depressing film. At least not after the first act where everything is stacked against Hung.
But once Maika enters the film it puts much of that aside in favour of 80s flavoured kids’ adventures. I’m not familiar with the original show apart from the clip Hung watches in a meta moment so I can’t comment on how faithful an adaptation it is. But I did recognize the influence of films like ET, *batteries not included and, by way of the landlord’s bumbling henchmen, Home Alone.
For her part, Maika needs Hung’s help to find the friend she was coming to Earth to retrieve. And to fix her transmitter so she can phone home and have someone pick them up. Which makes it a good thing that Thanh’s skill is repairing phones.
For her part, Maika needs Hung’s help to find the friend she was coming to Earth to retrieve. And to fix her transmitter so she can phone home and have someone pick them up. Which makes it a good thing that Thanh’s skill is repairing phones. Of course, Maika isn’t entirely helpless and her alien powers such as flying and sprouting tentacles help get them out of trouble more than once.
The effects representing those powers as well as things like a drone versus RC plane chase are something of a mixed bag. They’re not horrible, and in a low-budget film from a country not known for its film industry, they’re surprisingly good. Just compare the CGI in Maika: The Girl From Another Galaxy to the shark in Vietnamese director Le-Van Kiet’s California shot The Requin to see what I mean. But kids used to expensive Disney-level effects may find them somewhat disappointing. For me, however, even though they’re CGI not practical effects, their imperfection fits in with Maika: The Girl From Another Galaxy’s 80s feeling.
But more than the effects, Maika: The Girl From Another Galaxy is about the characters themselves. About moving on past grief and loss as Hung deals with his mother’s death and his friend moving away, and the interest a local woman shows in his father. It’s also, obviously, about friendship. Not just between Hung and Maika, but also in Hung finding common ground with the initially obnoxious rich kid Beto (Tin-Tin, Dépression et des potes).
Ultimately Maika: The Girl From Another Galaxy is an enjoyable film that kids should find entertaining and adults, especially those that remember the films of the 80s, won’t be bored by.
Maika: The Girl From Another Galaxy opened in its native Vietnam on May 27th. Well Go USA will release it on June 3rd in North American theatres. You can check their website or Facebook page for more information. Looking for something similar to Maika: The Girl From Another Galaxy? FilmTagger has some suggestions.