'Partners in Crime' ('Kong fan'): Toronto Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
Poised, accessible drama manages to rework the comedic tone of Taiwan's student-life subgenre

Chang Jung-chi masks a rite-of-passage tale with a thriller about three teenage boys' investigations into the death of a classmate

And then, there was darkness. Propelled by its abject alienation, eerie conspiracies and abruptly arriving deaths, Partners in Crime offers an ominous turn to the Taiwanese youth-drama genre once dominated by cuddly offerings like Orz Boyz,You Are the Apple of My Eye or Campus Confidential. Then again, it's even more of an about-face for helmer Chang Jung-chi, whose previous film (and feature-film debut) Touch of the Light was a radiant tale about  a blind pianist's positivity and its impact on a beautiful but failing dancer.

Boasting a competent screenplay by novelists Shabelle Kao and Monica Kao (Zoom Hunting), and effective performances from a young cast, Chang has delivered a serviceable suspense thriller which veers sharply away from the sentimentality that formerly marred his obvious gift of clear, concise storytelling. Opening the Taipei Film Festival in July and then closing the Hong Kong Summer International Film Festival in August, Partners should find many a willing paying viewer when it opens at home on Sept 26.

Meanwhile, its appearance in Toronto should provide at least some of the international exposure Chang would need if he were to run for Taiwan's berth for the Best Foreign Film Oscar long-list next year, as he pulled off with Touch last year. 

The film's titular partnership alludes to a disparate high-school triumvirate — the bullied loner Huang Li-huai (Wu Chien-ho), the bookworm Lin Yong-chuan (Deng Yu-kai) and the jock Yeh Yi-kai (Cheng Kai-yuan) — brought together by their chance discovery of the body of a classmate who has seemingly fallen from a rooftop. Their differences gradually dissipate as the trio begin to investigate the case — and the mission galvanizes Huang, as he appears to unleash some previously pent-up intellect and powers of observations.

Once and again digging up new clues and new tricks — crashing the girl's funeral and telling her jet-setting mother (a cameo from actress-producer Lee Lieh) they are best friends; breaking into her home and finding purported proof about the identity of her tormentor in school — the boy somehow becomes the leader of the other two teens, who should have been the brain and brawn of the operation.

Just like Touch of the Light, Partners is not exactly an imaginative visual feast — and it's all the best, since the former's way of pulling heartstrings tends to result in many a cliched montage. Not exactly feeling the need to slap on the melodramatic, Chang lets the story breathe here, the angst and confusion offered with a fair share of nuance. Intriguing and straightforward, Partners doesn't break stylistic ground, but it's an accessible and well-acted account of the fallout of adolescent angst.

Production companies:  Double Edge Entertainment, BenQ Entertainment, JHT Entertainment

Cast: Wu Chien-ho, Deng Yu-kai, Cheng Kau-yuan, Yao Ai-ning, Sunny Hung, Wen Chen-ling

Director: Chang Jung-chi

Screenwriters: Shabelle Kao, Monica Kao

Producers: Wolf Chen, Jacky Pang

Executive producer: Rick Lei, Chen Ye-cheng, Crystal Chang, Charles Hu, Max Fang, Lin Tien-kuei, Aston Chen, Tung Szu-mei

Director of photography: Jimmy Yu

Production designer: Wu Rou-yun

Editor: Nyssa Li

Music: Wen Tzu-chieh

International Sales:  Double Edge Entertainment

In Mandarin


No rating; 89 minutes