Lighting up the Stars

image for Lighting up the Stars

Short takes

Not suitable under 14; parental guidance to 15 (themes, sexual reference, violence and language) May lack interest under 17.

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Lighting up the Stars
  • a review of Lighting up the Stars completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 9 August 2022.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 14 Not suitable due to sexual references, violence, language and themes.
Children aged 14–15 Parental guidance recommended due to sexual references, violence, language and themes. Also may lack interest.
Children aged 16 and over Ok for this age group, however, may lack interest under 17.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Lighting up the Stars
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild themes, violence, coarse language
Length: 112 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Mo Sanmei, San, (Yilong Zhu) has always seen himself as a disappointment to his father, never able to live up to the perfect memory of an older brother he did not know. When San gets out of prison he returns to help his father run the family mortuary business, much to his displeasure. Meanwhile, though she doesn’t realise it at the time, young Xiaowen’s grandmother has just died. With her own parents presumed dead and an uncle at the mercy of his cruel wife who doesn’t want to care for a child that isn’t hers, Xiaowen (Enyou Yang) is on her own and frantic to find her grandmother, the one person who loved and cared for her. Her desperate attempts to track down her grandmother lead Xiaowen to San, who would rather do anything than look after a child. When circumstances conspire to throw them together, Xiaowen helps San develop a new appreciation for life as he learns to care for someone other than himself; whilst he also develops a new appreciation for death and how to celebrate and respect the lives of those who have passed away.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Death; Grief; The processing of loss; Cremation and the preparation of bodies; Cheating; Child abandonment and separation.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie, including:

  • San says that he will smash his way into a shop if he is not let in. He then storms in and violently grabs and shoves a woman (his ex-girlfriend) onto a bed and begins roughly kissing her despite her protests.
  • San and another man hit and strangle each other.
  • Xiaowen repeatedly bites people, especially if they try to remove her from the room.
  • San and his partner wrestle each other in a disagreement over Xiaowen.
  • Xiaowen repeatedly pokes San with her spear-tipped walking stick.
  • While looking for her grandmother, Xiaowen destroys a funeral ceremony, knocking things over and throwing things down.
  • San tells Xiaowen to stab him and that he doesn’t want to live anymore.
  • Sans father attacks San’s car with his cane and slaps him in the face.
  • Xiaowen spits in San’s face.
  • There is a fight at a funeral as people hit, slap and punch each other. Xiaowen’s stick is broken in half and San is shown with a bloody eye.
  • San describes how his father beat him as a child, for wanting to watch cartoons instead of preparing dead bodies for funerals.
  • San’s sister slaps him across the face.
  • San’s father smashes up the house where they live.
  • A body is mangled by a truck and San and his father help repair it for burial, rebuilding the body from the toes up. San’s partner vomits in the sink and San tries not to throw up. Part of the body is shown afterwards.
  • San tells Xiaowen’s family not to hit the child.
  • San’s dad describes how San’s older brother died recovering the body of a teenage boy in a river.
  • San steals his father’s ashes from his sister and puts them into a firework display where they explode in the sky and light up the night.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

  • Nothing further noted.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Xiaowen wakens to find her grandmother dead in the bed beside her and she tries desperately to wake her up. Xiaowen hides in a closet while San and another man come in to prepare her grandmother to be taken to a funeral home. She is told by a number of mean-spirited individuals that her grandmother will be cremated and turned into ash and that Xiaowen will never see her again. Initially Xiaowen doesn’t believe them but it is only when she is shown the chimney, with smoke billowing out, that the realisation sinks in and she is inconsolable.
  • San allows Xiaowen’s biological mother to take her one night and Xiaowen wakes up as she is being placed into a taxi. She is terrified and adamant that she doesn’t want to go with the strange woman but the taxi begins to drive away while Xiaowen screams and cries and San, realising he has made a mistake, chases after the car.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

  • Nothing further noted.

Product placement

  • None noted.

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • San is told that his ex-girlfriend is pregnant with another man’s baby and others inform him how she cheated with this other guy.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • After being accused of stealing, San and his partner strip down to their underwear to prove that they have taken nothing.
  • San barges into his ex-girlfriend’s shop after threatening her. He grabs and roughly throws her onto the bed in the back and it looks like he is intending to rape her while she struggles to free herself. The new boyfriend comes out of the shower, wearing nothing but a towel, and attacks San.
  • A man is shown coming out of the shower wearing only a towel around his waist.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • San often smokes cigarettes.
  • San offers his father alcohol and the two drink from flasks on a park bench.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • Hell
  • God damn it
  • Bastard
  • Jerk
  • Shit.

In a nutshell

Lighting up the Stars is a Chinese (Mandarin) film with English subtitles, featuring an excellent cast with wonderful performances, especially from young Enyou Yang. The film depicts commonplace struggles and how, ultimately, everyone has to face the inevitability of death. It is a film that makes you think and reflect, and one that will stay with you long after the end credits have finished. Consequently, this is not a film aimed at children but one that is best suited to audiences over 16.

The main messages from this movie are that each star that shines in the sky represents someone who has lived and loved; and that, in life, fame and wealth are smoke and mirrors and nothing is bigger than death itself.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Loyalty
  • Compassion
  • Kindness
  • Empathy
  • Determination.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • Allowing a child to feel unloved.
  • Belittling those around you.
  • Forcing your way into a place and sexually assaulting someone who has made it clear they want you to stop.
  • Exposing children to the realities of death that they may be unprepared for.
  • The necessity to work in ways you may not wish to, simply to survive.