Orz Boys

Bottom line: A fairy tale about childhood that would move adults.

"Orz Boys" is an artistic and capricious flight of fancy that puts the mystery and even a streak of malice into the rendition of a child's world. First time film director Gilles Ya-che Yang (author of the novel "Blue Gate Crossing" which became a hit youth film in Taiwan) displays polished storytelling skills, weaving classic fairytales into the story of two little boys' friendship, then subverting and reinventing them to express the central themes of betrayal and disenchantment.

"Orz Boys" can be viewed as a sister film to "Flower in the Pocket," the Malaysian festival scorer that also shows the mischief two boys get into when neglected. While "Flower" is more down-to-earth, "Orz" has greater technical smoothness, but is sometimes prone to intellectual philosophizing that may go over any young audience's head. Not your average Disney film, this may attract a more sophisticated audience in festivals, but has enough happening to draw family viewers.

The title word "Orz" is an emoticon that Taiwan's netizens borrowed from Japan, connoting failure and despair. It underlines the film's preoccupation with the ersatz allure of adulthood, the actual pain of growing up, and a wistful recollection of childhood. For the most part, the mood is lively, buoyed by two puckish protagonists with footloose imagination. Loathed by teachers for their unruliness and talent for tall tales (which they use to scam other kids for loose change), they are nicknamed Liar No. 1 (Lee Kuan-Yi) Liar No. 2 (Pang Chin-Yu), and banished to the library to repair books. This becomes their hotbed of storybook adventure, fueling a belief that a nearby marine park is a "portal to hyper-space" -- some magical shortcut to adulthood. However, their plan is spoiled by an act of betrayal that leads to the loss of innocence.

Over the course of the film, adults are shown up as worse liars than the boys, such as No 2's uncle who breaks his promise to take him on a trip, or the toy shop-owner who cheats and threatens the kids with a rifle. A thread that runs through the plot is the association of adults with money-mindedness. "The Pied Piper of Hamelin", a fairytale whose moral is the loss of children through grownups' greed, is a recurrent motif, cheekily reworked as a silent movie excerpt showing people chasing after a garbage truck. Another reinterpreted fairytale is "The Happy Prince," told in animated images that allude to the sad and mysterious relationship between No. 1 and a mentally ill homeless man. Taiwanese animator Fish peppers the film with animations of visual elan, especially in the denouement, when animated scenes are crosscut with No. 2's arrival at the prosaic yet eerie water park.

Director Yang displays a flair for artsy compositions, unconventional camera angles and mellow lighting. But he is most engaging when depicting non-fantasy situations, like No. 2's hilarious bantering with his fire-spitting ogre of a granny, or the boys' exchange with their classmate Ally, a girl with a Mona Lisa smile.

Orz Boys (Jiong R Z Nanhai)
1 Production Film
Credits: Writer-Director: Gilles Ya-che Yang; Producer: Lieh Lee; Executive producers: Lieh Lee, Tien-Tsung Ma; Director of photography: Yi-Wen Chou; Art Director: Kuei-Bang Won; Music: Yun-Ling Huang, Hsin-Min Chung; Costume designer: Pei-Chen Chang; Editor: Chen-Ching Lei.
Cast: Liar No. 1: Lee Kuan-Yi; Liar No. 2: Pang Chin-Yu; Grandma: Mei Fang; No. 1's Father: Ma Chih-Hsiang; Ally Lin: Hsu Chi-Wen
No MPAA rating, running time 110 minutes.