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Orz Boyz Return to Pan-Asia Review Archive
   |     review    |     notes     |     availability     | Orz Boyz
Not bowing in admiration: The "boyz" of Orz Boyz.
  
Chinese: 囧男孩
Year: 2008
Director:

Yang Ya-Che

Writer:

Yang Ya-Che

  Cast:

Pang Chin-Yu, Lee Kuan-Yi, Mei Fang, Ma Chih-Hsiang, Hsu Chi-Wen, Ethan Ruan

  The Skinny: Despite an episodic structure resulting in erratic pacing and a lack of dramatic drive, Orz Boyz has endearing characters and enough imagination to make it a worthwhile sit.
   
Review
by
Kevin Ma:

For those not familiar with Asian Internet culture, the "Orz" in Orz Boyz is an emoticon originally from Japan that stands for a person bowing in failure or despair. The popularity of the emoticon has since spread to Taiwan and China, where it can also mean bowing in admiration. It's not quite clear which definition the "Orz" in Orz Boyz uses to describe its main two characters, especially since the two protagonists in Yang Ya-Che's film aren't exactly living a technologically hip life where emoticons would be used. The film takes place in the small coastal township of Danshui near Taipei, where neighbors hang out at the street market and all the kids go to the same toy store. There's a simple, youthful charm in the world of Orz Boyz that will attract plenty of viewers into its imaginative small town story, but its erratic and episodic narrative can also wear out an audience's patience.

Split into three sections, the film follows the episodic lives of two boys, nicknamed No. 1 and No. 2 for their troublemaking ability at school. Instead of studying, the two boys hang out in the library looking at a statue that may be coming alive, while dreaming of escaping to a fantastical place called Hyperland. The first section focuses on the two boys' lives and their developing love-hate relationship with a female classmate. Using the section to build the character of the two boys, Yang strikes the perfect balance here between the constant presence of magical realism and the setting's small-town charm. On the other hand, the first section is also the most leisurely-paced, and lacks much of a narrative to drive the characters.

The second section starts off with a short, colorful animation that depicts animated characters watching the boys reenact a live-action version of The Pied Piper of Hamlin. However, the animated segment doesn't really connect with the second section's focus on No. 2's grandmother and her sudden custody of her granddaughter. The narrative takes a sudden jump that connects little with the rest of the film, and the section would work more effectively as an isolated story rather than as a part of the movie. Perhaps Orz Boyz's paper-thin plot might've been better developed as a television series. Nevertheless, Yang does have great visual imagination, and it's a skill that he uses throughout the film. As a novelist, Yang also has a handle on developing his characters, with the two lead boys making memorable impressions.

However, Yang also relies too much on the characters as a device to drive the film. Not much beyond real life happens to these kids in the first two sections, despite No.1's dysfunctional family life with his homeless, mentally ill father. As a result, the audience simply follows these characters as things happen to them. While the boys' childish and mischievous charm make them likeable characters to follow (despite No. 2's annoying pleading), the events in the first two sections never cause them to change as characters, giving the film little in terms of progression.

The film's narrative problems improve slightly in the third section, when the boys are determined to make money for a water park trip that will bring them to Hyperland. The events in this section not only change the nature of the boys' relationship and their characters, it also brings the film to an emotionally poignant finale that provides an absolute and satisfying conclusion. However, the last section also features very little of the charm that made the first two sections enjoyable, opting for a surprising amount of drama and fantastical surrealism. While the former feels needed to complete the character arc, the latter simply alienates the audience at points and further drags on the film.

Erratic storytelling rhythm and episodic structure aside, Yang's biggest achievement with Orz Boyz is taking these two children's tragic lives and turning it into a story with endearing characters and great imagination. The reason for such a choice of storytelling is that the boys never lament about the grim reality of their lives' situations. Despite their persistent intention to get away to Hyperland, that desire is simply part of their childhood pursues and fantastical desires. As a film that expresses those things, Orz Boyz is quite effective in making a film from the children's point of view that children will identify with. Even though the film's episodic structure makes it more fitting for television than cinema, the charm of the boys is enough to make this a film worth recommending. It won't make anyone bow in the presence of Yang Ya-Che, but at least he's earned a nod of respect. Too bad there's no emoticon for that. (Kevin Ma 2009)

   
Notes: • This review is for the Taiwanese release of the film, which is shorter than the 110-minute version that went around film festivals worldwide.
Availability:

DVD (Taiwan)
Region 3 NTSC)
Sky Digi Entertainment
Two Disc Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 2.0
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras

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