Taipei high school kids are unusually well informed about the going rates for
scrap metal. It is too bad there isn’t some sort of Junior Achievement to
channel Lefty’s enterprising impulses. Instead, he will hatch a strange shaggy
dog heist caper to liquidate a national symbol. Oddly enough, he will have to
contend with a rival high school mastermind in Yee Chih-yen’s Meeting Dr. Sun (trailer here), which screens
today during the 2014 Hawaii International Film Festival.
Clifford Odetts-esquely named Lefty and his three friends must constantly evade
school bullies because they cannot afford to pay their “fees” for the term.
However, Lefty thinks he may have stumbled across the answer to their problems.
In a dusty storeroom he spied a cast-off cast-iron statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen.
If they sold it for scrap they could pay off all their dubious dues and then
some, without anyone at school missing it. The trick would be transporting the
heavy statue, but Lefty is a budding master of logistics. The more pressing
challenge will come from Sky, a fellow schoolmate whom Lefty learns is also
planning his own statue heist.
soon confronts Sky arguing his desperate financial circumstances should give
him first dibs on Dr. Sun. They duly proceed with a “poor-off,” which Sky wins thanks
to his abusive and disorderly father. Lefty tries to forge an alliance with
Sky, but finds himself double-crossed instead. He might be too trusting, but he
is not a quitter, convincing his mates to crash Sky’s job.
Meeting is considerably more
Stand by Me than The Italian Job, but the extended caper sequence is very cleverly
staged. Yee dexterously juggles eight teens in anime masks running amuck and
confusing themselves silly. It is a great comedic action centerpiece, but it is
embedded in elegantly sad coming of age story. For Yee the hard fact is Lefty
and Sky consider their lives predestined by class and see no solutions aside
from their unlikely criminal schemes.
young ensemble looks impressively natural on camera, especially Zhan Huai-yun
as the earnest and sensitive Lefty. Wei Han-ting counterbalances him well
enough as the intense and taciturn Sky, but his slow boil is almost too
self-contained and cold blooded for the character’s own good. On the other
hand, Joseph Chang and Gina Li offer up some manic but not cringy comic cameos
as the school’s security guard and his girlfriend, who will struggle with the competing
gangs’ wild improvising.
Thanks to the disciplined teen cast, Nick Chou’s
nostalgic but supportive piano score, and cinematographer Chen Ta-pu’s dark
shadows and warm color palate, Meeting
often feels somewhat akin to Kore-eda’s films. It offers some pointed social
criticism, but the eccentric caper plot makes it all highly watchable. Thematically
and stylistically, it would make a highly compatible double feature with Chang
Jung-chi’s even darker Partners in Crime,
which also screens during the festival. Recommended for those who enjoy
deterministic social dramas with a flair for the absurd, Meeting Dr. Sun screens tonight (11/1) and this Friday (11/7) as
part of this year’s HIFF, with subsequent screenings scheduled the following
Sunday (11/9) and Tuesday (11/11) during the 2014 San Diego Asian Film Festival.
Labels: Caper movies, Coming of age films, HIFF '14, Taiwanese Cinema