Baseball Boys [Yeqiu Haizi, 野球孩子]. Dir. SHEN Ko-shang [沈可尚], LIAO Ching-Yao [廖敬堯]. Perf. youth league baseball team of Fuyuan Elementary School [富源國小棒球隊] in Hualien, their parents, their coach. PTS [公共電視]: 2008.
Following in the footsteps of successful documentaries like Jump! Boys [whose director Lin Yu-Hsien was in attendance at this sold-out screening], directors Shen and Liao follow a baseball team consisting of elementary school students, mostly aboriginal boys, from Fuyuan Elementary School. These fifth and sixth grade boys, just on the cusp of adolescence, are prepared to give their all at the annual youth league playoffs.
What's surprising about this documentary is how quickly the boys were defeated. It's a documentary that lacks the kind of climactic victory or dramatic moments that push its audience over the edge. To be frank, the lack of suspense dampens the narrative drive and entertainment value that I think a lot of audience members might have been expecting from this film. It is, nonetheless, a brave way to tell the story. The directors focus not on victories, but instead invite the viewer to consider the challenges, these boys' individual personalities and how they will eventually change, and consider even how they might confront mediocrity in a mature, healthy way. A focus on the "ordinary" is actually quite unusual in documentaries like this. The directors did turn the camera on the boys' schoolwork, their family lives, their interactions as friends. Yet perhaps more could have been done to show their lives in Hualien (though, as one of the directors was saying, life in Hualien is about "好山好水, 但是非常無聊" -- beautiful scenery, but very boring). Ultimately, the ability to admit defeat, the resistance to making victory the only acceptable conclusion is what makes this documentary special.