The following is a review written for Easternkicks.com and reposted here. Partners in Crime was originally viewed at the East Winds Film Festival 2014 (European Premiere)
Director Jung-Chi Chang lets us explore the hidden personal detachments sown throughout Taiwanese culture in the latest High School Thriller, Partners in Crime
Partners in Crime
Dir. Jung-Chi Chang
4 ½ ****
A teenage girl is dead in the alley, and three unconnected high school boys find her, one claiming to have seen her breathe her last. This is the setup for Jung-Chi Chang’s Partners in Crime, an atmospheric
thriller-romp that quickly sets the pace and leads you on a merry ghost chase for the rest of the film. In a drastic departure from such cutesy Taiwanese teen drama’s such as Giddens You Are The Apple Of My Eye or award winning Campus Confidential, Director Chang instead seems to thematically recreate the American horror-drama’s of the VHS 90s; with a suspected murder instead of Scream and three sleuthing lads as opposed to Freddie Prinze Jr.
The three boys who witnessed Hsai Wei-chiao’s (Yao Ai-ning) death set out to discover what happened, and unearth the truth behind the Suicide or Murder question floating around by their classmates. Huang Li-Huai (Wu Chien-Ho) is the typecast loner who pulls the trio together on their investigations, desperate for friends, whilst popular class nerd Lin Yong-Chuan (Deng Yu-Kai) and rebellious outcast Yeh Yi-Kai (Cheng Kai-yuan) allow themselves to get dragged along with hopes of making friends and exploring something new or exciting away from the school.
As the film progresses, Director Chang throws the audience into a spin as we are launched into the technological connections of Taiwanese youth. All of their classmates are blogging to find the suspected murder, avidly pointing fingers with no idea of the truth and uploading poor photos to Social Media; all the while our trio are breaking into Wei-chiao’s old apartment (as her Mother works abroad, always leaving her alone) to sneak through her underwear, diary and seedily strip her computer for clues.
None of the boys knew Wei-Chiao, but loner Li-Huai proudly states that “nobody else knows, so what we tell as the truth must eventually become the truth”, so when they pretend to be her best friends during the funeral then it is accepted as fact. This inherent risk only escalates as the gang set up malicious pranks to get back at Wei-Chiao’s apparent bullies and murderers; the action getting increasingly frantic and the inter-connection of the group’s social stalking being a frank contrast with the technological detachment that all the other Teen’s around them face.
Partners in Crime feels a lot like Pang Ho-Cheung’s Aberdeen, at least through the Cinematography. It’s a very pretty film despite taking place primarily at night through acts of burglary, with vivid colours and bright punchy lighting raising the dramatic atmosphere of a scene. Each shot is posed perfectly and the audience gets a perfect feel for the girl who feels unattached from society, her bedroom a place of escape and mess that tells a larger tale than her Internet history ever will. The overgrown forest behind the scene, and tight encroaching alleyways in the middle of the city, each scene stands out poignantly whilst Director Chang continues to sow the seeds of teenage discomfort throughout the film.
The biggest reflective element of Partners in Crime is not that the three boys take it upon themselves to hunt down Wei-Chiao’s supposed murder, in a typical Scooby-Doo fashion that raised many laughs from the audience, but the comments about society (an aspect rarely touched upon in the film) in Taiwan that show a true element of disconnection in the Teenage culture, a disconnection that ironically they try to plug with social media and faking digital friendships or personalities. It was her online presence that the boys used to track down many clues to Wei-Chiao’s murder, and ultimately it will be those small snippets of her online that she’ll be remembered by.