Busan 2014 Review: PARTNERS IN CRIME, A Subversive, Stylish Murder Mystery
Three juvenile boys from the same high school happen upon the body of a schoolgirl one gloomy afternoon. After reporting it to the police they are compelled to investigate further after they are told nothing of the girl's demise and are instead given a heartless school counselor, who cryptically suggests they forget about the incident.
Although schoolmates, the boys do not initially know each other, but their pact as amateur sleuths creates a strong bond of friendship. Through their investigation, they uncover painful truths that signify nothing is as it seems, and they realize that their infatuation with the case has powerful repercussions far beyond the girl's death.
Each protagonist has an agenda that ties not only to the case, but something far more affecting. The hows and why's of their obsessive investigation soon come to light as more is revealed about them.
Partners In Crime is, in fact, subversive in its treatment of the tropes of the mystery genre. There is far more happening in the film than a strange death, and the reveal is a harrowing and fascinating statement of contemporary Taiwan. The boys, all students, use modern tools of communication and social networking to probe the investigation. They want justice and through some evidence one of them presents, they believe she was murdered.
As we get to know them, we come to understand the workings of youth in Taiwan; there is a severe disconnect in communication, ironically fueled by social networking. There is an ingrained loneliness in the society that Chang highlights through the dead girl, the boys and even the adults present in the film.
Chang keeps the film on its toes, however, and the result is an unemotional one. For better or worse, the themes are subdued by the engaging and entertaining design of the film.
Through razor-sharp editing, ultra-stylish mise-en-scene, and a pulse-pounding soundtrack that echoes the contemporary subject, Chang has ensured the truth is hidden between the lines. The film would benefit greatly from a re-watch, as the puzzle pieces would fit better. As a result, the first viewing, then, is a compelling one. Without skipping a beat, the film progresses masterfully towards its resolution.
Chang understands how to engage the audience, and the film, although technically mired in societal ills, is a powerful thrill-ride, jolting your senses from beginning to end.
Partners In Crime is easily one of the slickest productions in recent years. The film is atypically Taiwanese; it captures the shallow yet stylish youth culture and aesthetic the pop-obsessed admire, yet it does not feel entirely commercial. From music video style montages to Fincher-esque tone, lighting and set pieces, Chang submerges us in the world of the cynical and alienated, but despite the heady themes, the film maintains its veneer of assured cool.