Review: The Kids // 小孩 (2015)

Sunny Yu’s debut feature The Kids revolves around the lives of teenage couple Pao-li (Wu Chien-ho) and Jia-jia (Wen Chen-ling). The narrative shifts between the couple's high school days and the present, situated a few years after. Pao-li is now a kitchen helper at a roast meat stall, Jia-jia works at a café, and they live with their baby daughter and Pao-li’s mother (Yang Chi) – a compulsive gambler – cramped in a one-room flat.

Jia-jia’s struggles with her abusive father and cheating ex-boyfriend loom over the couple’s high school romance. The present offers little relief, saddled as it is with familial responsibilities and marital deceit. Contrast is mild between the past and the present, and nostalgia cut short.

Pao-li weathers through the day with a stoic countenance in both timelines, while Jia-jia's aspect is constantly clouded. The years in between do not left much of a mark on the characters, so the film’s juxtaposition of time is light in effect.

The drama in the present is triggered by Jia-jia leaving the house with the child, leading to Pao-li's ill-fated series of amends. The story plays out like a melodrama, but one of loose intensity and unexploited tension. In what was probably intended as a culmination of his desperation for cash to secure a new apartment and the marriage, Pao-li attempts to rob a wealthy woman in one of the final scenes. Yet, even this sequence was rendered with a gentle hand, and Pao-li’s desperation, like his character, appears distant.
There are some lovely moments in the film, and the one-room flat littered with unwashed clothes, leftover food, and occupied by Pao-li’s unkempt mother, provides a stark backdrop for the youthful faces of the couple and their child.

Yu's writing is sophisticated, and safe. The story stands on its own without being consumed by thematic expositions. The visuals are similarly measured. What would be great for Yu’s next project would be a further venture into the depths of the ordinary. 

Review by Teenli Tan

This review is part of the Asian Feature Film Competition series at the Singapore International Film Festival 2015. Read more about the film here.

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