Review: Partners in Crime (Chang, 2014) – CAAMFest 2015

Still from the movie Partners in Crime

I have a soft spot for films from Taiwan that goes beyond simple nostalgia. Perhaps it is their familiar sensibility or world view; perhaps it is just a desire to recognize. It was this preference that first interested me in Partners in Crime, but it was the film’s energy that kept me hooked and that makes it my second favorite narrative feature of this year’s CAAMFest.

After viewing a series of slower-moving pieces, it was a pleasant change to watch this high school thriller by director Chang Jung-chi (his previous film Touch of the Light was Taiwan’s entry for the Oscars in 2012). It begins with nothing less dramatic than a boy discovering the body of a recently dead girl in an alley. She seemed to have fallen from an upper story balcony, but was it foul play or suicide? The original kid Huang (Wu Chien-he) is soon joined by two other boys, Lin (Deng Yu-kai) and Yeh (Cheng Kai-yuan), who immediately call the police. Though all three are classmates from the same high school, none of them seem to have been previously acquainted with each other. Huang is an outcast, Lin a straight-laced nerd, and Yeh a “bad boy” type. Still, when the three of them are ordered to undergo counseling together, they develop a spontaneous friendship around discovering the true cause of their classmate’s fall. Headed by Huang, they crash the girl’s funeral, break into her room, and concoct a plot to avenge her death. But when their plans take a fatal turn, the boys, finding themselves on the other end of the scope, learn that things are not always as they first appear.

It may have a grade school message, but the execution of this lesson is at least gripping and convoluted, if not quite as sophisticated as it could be. Part of the film’s tension results from the relationship between the three boys, who outwardly seem so different but who are all profoundly lonely in their own way. It is this loneliness, rather than their amateur detective work, that actually cements their friendship and makes it believable. And though each kid represents a type, it is a credit to the screenwriters that none of them are defined by their type, particularly in the film’s first half (the narrative tightness and quality character-making unravel a bit in the second half).

The more I reflect on Partners in Crime, the more I like it. It is not without its flaws–a tendency to over-dramatize in some instances, to strain the viewer’s suspension of disbelief in others–but these can be overlooked in what is an overwhelmingly engaging film. There are a few scenes that might have degenerated into kitsch if the characters had felt less real, but the three main actors are all equal to their parts. Sadly, CAAMFest is nearly over now (today is its last day), but I have the feeling that Partners in Crime is the type of movie you’ll be able to check out at your local library soon enough.