Oh look, yet another Taiwanese teen movie. That’s what I thought to myself when I first stumbled upon some promotional pictures from Partners in Crime, a film that, after all, is about high school kids in Taiwan. Then I saw the movie’s poster –something I could see oversensitive American parents getting their panties into a twist about–and realized that this was going to be nothing like You Are the Apple of My Eye (Taiwan’s most successful teen romance movie in recent memory).
Though its uniforms and classrooms are the same, Partners in Crime is a different animal from Taiwan’s other teen movies. In some senses, there’s nothing horribly juvenile about the film. If the title set you up to expect some rollicking Nancy Drew mystery, now’s a good time to shift your mindset, because Partners in Crime is probably closer to Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (a Korean revenge film from the director of Oldboy) in tone.
The film kicks off with a suicide. While separately walking home, three boys from the same high school, Huang Li-huai, Lin Yongqun, and Ye Yikai, discover a girl’s body lying fresh in an alley. Her name is Xia Weiqiao, and apparently she is also their schoolmate — though . After calling the police and getting sent to the school counselor, the three boys leverage their common experience to become fast friends. Huang is the group’s ringleader, and the friendship starts off innocently enough when he suggests the three attend Xia’s funeral. However, curiosity quickly descends into voyeurism; their obsession with Xia grows and the trio end up breaking into her now abandoned apartment. There, they discover that someone may have compelled her towards suicide — and Huang swears the group to enacting revenge on her behalf.
As the revenge plot thickens, we start to see more questions than answers surrounding the life and death of Xia Weiqiao. The first half of the movie seems straightforward enough — but right when we reach climax, a plot twist occurs that throws our expectations for a smoother falling action into doubt. While Partners in Crime‘s first half was pretty mysterious already, the second half is filled with even more suspense. As a whole the film is not easily predictable, and proceeds at a dramatic pace slightly slower than the beats of a telltale heart.
Teenage flavors enhance Partners in Crime‘s drama, but don’t define it. The movie effectively incorporates the social media rumor mill as a plot device, and it leverages the characters’ youth to make everything seem just a bit more creepy; after all, a young girl smiling while holding a bloody knife is far more unsettling than a grown man doing the exact same thing. The children in this film are effectively adults; the actual adult figures that do appear seem either impotent or unhelpful amidst the darkness of youth. Though you could argue certain characters mature, this is not a movie about the loss of innocence, because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of innocence to start with.
Partners in Crime is dark and thrilling. Its characters are intriguing, its storyline filled with twists and turns. Stormy visuals and a foreboding soundtrack a la The Social Network further color its shadows. Its disposition may not be perfectly artistic and its references to existentialist literature might seem a bit too quirky, but Partners in Crime is a piece that exceeds expectations and leaves a palpable aftertaste of mystery.
Partners in Crime (Chinese: 共犯) — Directed by Chang Rong-ji. First released September 2014. Running time 1hr 29min. Starring Ko Chia-yen, Frankie Huang, Chen-Ling Wen, Jain-Ho Wu, Tsai-yi Huang, Lee Lieh, Soso Tseng, and Vincent Liang.