In director Chang Jung-chi psychological thriller, Partners in Crime, the lives of three vastly different students are changed forever by the suspicious death of a fellow student. Although Huang, Lin, and Yeh all attend the same Taipei high school, their paths had not crossed until the day they discovered Hsai Wei-chiao’s lifeless body in an alleyway. Stunned by what they found, the trio quickly bond over their shared trauma. As questions begin to swirl around the young woman’s apparent suicide, the boys turn amateur sleuths in hopes of finding clues that will provide more insight into her life. What starts out as curiosity soon becomes an obsession as they uncover evidence that points to the possibility of another student playing a role in Wei-chaio’s death.
Exploring the teenage psyche, complete with angst and insecurities, Chang Jung-chi’s detective mystery immediately pulls the viewer in. The three main leads are each recognizable teen archetypes. Huang is an introvert who is bullied by his peers, Lin is the brains whose friends are constantly copying his answers, and Yeh is the rugged, but secretly sensitive bad boy. What is surprising is how natural their bond feels. Despite each boy being an outcast in their own way, their sense of brotherhood is prevalent within the film.
Where Partners in Crime gets a little murky is in the way the central mystery unfolds. The threads of the once tightly woven narrative being to unravel in the latter half when the boys find themselves forced to keep a secret bigger than Wei-chiao’s death. Chang’s film does a good job of highlighting how young people now live in an age where “truth” is objective not fact. They react, and in some cases retaliate, without hesitation or questioning the validity of an allegation. Unfortunately, the roundabout way in which the film travels to make these points slowly takes the air out of the balloon of suspense Partners in Crime worked so hard to build up.
Thankfully, the film makes up for its missteps in the way it establishes and maintains an eerie atmosphere. Similar to the water imagery Chang employs, there is a sense of dread and sadness throughout Partners in Crime. The characters seem to be barely treading water in every aspect of their lives, one step away from drowning under the weight of it all. It is no coincidence that one of the most powerful images in the film is a shot of a diary hitting the bottom of the lake. The symbolic explosion of sand underwater when the book hits perfectly encapsulates the emotional time bombs each character carries with them. While Partners in Crime does not provide the strong and riveting final act that it builds up to, it is an intriguing teen drama that will have the audience more interested in why rather than who.
Saturday, February 14, 1 PM , TIFF Bell Lightbox