Dir: Wei-Shan Yu | Centrepiece Presentation | Taiwan | 2015 | 90 minutes
Nov 7 7:00 pm | International Village
One of the famous last lines of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is “All are punished.” Whereas that condemnation was only meant for the families of the play’s titular couple, it applies to everyone in The Kids. Here, our main couple is also at fault for part of their burdens, but we are left to still feel a sense of “who can blame them?”
The Taiwanese film directed by Wei-Shan Yu centres on teen parents Bao-Li and Jia-Jia. Both are only 16, trying desperately to make ends meet for their baby. However, while Bao-Li — a former student misfit — works hard for a better life for his family, Jia-Jia has gotten into an affair with her boss. Other problems are also added to the mix: from Bao-Li’s gambling addicted mother to pressure on Jia-Jia to relinquish her child from peers. Simultaneously, the film occasionally flashes back to a year before when both were still students, providing insight to how this mess all started.
In regards to its premise, The Kids feels all too familiar, especially if viewers have seen similar films. You will quickly correctly guess the troubled backgrounds of both characters and the eventual escalation of their conflicts. Near the end, you might even feel some of the bigger problems they encounter feel tacked on for dramatic purposes. Despite all that, being a “refreshing story” was never going to be this film’s strong point. Additionally, it is a mistake to prioritize unique premises watching films like this (though it is truly appreciated when it happens).
The film’s real standout feature lies within its focus on its characters and their deconstruction. With all of their complicated backgrounds, their intimacy and interactions fuel our curiosity to follow them until the end. The film doesn’t try to sugarcoat its starring couple with pure-white innocence. They are significantly flawed as the rest, making situations all the more interesting with other characters. Jia-Jia’s commitment issues are a given — especially, through flashbacks — but she keeps trying to maintain her standing as a good mother. Bao-Li, indeed, works hard but is excessively naive and optimistic. He’s shown, at times, to be too stubborn as a result. Thus, we become curious as to how these attitudes eventually backlash against them as well as complicate things with others who lead just as frustrating lives. It becomes twice as interesting when the couple is put in the same room as the privileged, who liberally express their sympathy for Bao-Li and Jia-Jia, yet clearly misunderstand both of them anyway.
The most important aspect of the film is that it feels well grounded, despite its narrative clichés. Whether in writing or the cast’s performance, it rarely suffers from being overly dramatic. The characters’ actions and intimacy mostly feel genuine and relatable. This is more so with the more positive moments in the couple’s relationship, whether in flashbacks to their years of younger ignorance or taking care of their child together. Had the film dwell on these intimate interactions even more, it certainly would have resulted in something all the more tragic in the end. Regardless, the film properly earns our sympathies for these characters as it does our curiosities.
With a combination of genuineness and well-thought-out characterization, The Kids makes for a solid, sympathetic piece of character study. We know what kind of holes these characters are digging for themselves. Yet, we still manage to invest ourselves in watching how they dig them.