“What is this?” a teacher asks a class of elementary school students. “An elephant,” some boys snicker. “They are testicles, and they are never at the same level. One is always higher than the other,” the teacher explains.
Class is dismissed, and the boys rush out the door, humming a tune using the anatomical terms they just learned.
This is the opening scene of Baseball Boys (野球孩子), a documentary about a baseball team consisting of fifth and sixth graders, mostly Aboriginal boys, from Fuyuan Elementary School (富源國小) in Hualien County.
In terms of subject matter, the film is akin to My Football Summer (奇蹟的夏天). Both follow a group of young athletes undergoing rigorous training for an upcoming national championship. But the two differ in their approach to the genre. If My Football Summer is a novel filled with dramatic moments and a narrative climax, Baseball Boys is a prose poem composed of fragments of everyday life.
Winner of the top prize at the biannual Taiwan International Documentary Festival (台灣國際紀錄片雙年展) last year, this documentary by experienced filmmakers Shen Ko-shang (沈可尚) and Liao Ching-yao (廖敬堯) dispenses with the voice-over and keeps interviews to a minimum. The pace is leisurely and the film dwells on the little things: the silly games two brothers play before bedtime, a girl smacking the back of a boy’s head because she thinks he’s cute, young baseball players turning the school’s playground into a concert hall at night.
Liao and Shen play the role of quiet observers, gazing intimately into the boys’ lives and resisting the temptation to comment. We see a father with serious burn scars on his face, a boy calling his grandmother rather than his parents after the team’s first victory, and a student dreaming of becoming either an athlete or a singer when he grows up. But the camera stops there, leaving members of the audience to formulate their own ideas using their imaginations.
Unlike many sports documentaries, with their high emotion and enthusiasm in the run-up to the big game, Baseball Boys paints a realistic portrait of a group of students on the cusp of adolescence. Because many of the young players will graduate from elementary school after the game, it is a time to bid farewell to childhood and prepare for the trials and tribulations of their teenage years.
The film ends with a new academic year after summer vacation. New faces show up on the baseball team. Boys and girls banter and practice street-dance moves as life goes on in the village.
SHEN KO-SHANG (沈可尚)
AND LIAO CHING-YAO (廖敬堯)
COACH CHANG MAO-SAN (張茂三)
AND BASEBALL PLAYERS AS THEMSELVES
IN MANDARIN WITH CHINESE
AND ENGLISH SUBTITLES
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