Yang Fumin, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Taiwan has produced more than a few fine baseball films, from the early Red Leaf Little League Baseball Team (1988) to later works such as Winds of September (2008), Baseballlove (2012), Faithball (2018), and Kano (2014). In all of these films, baseball – Taiwan’s unofficial “national sport” – is the key image that attempts to link collective memory to a national narrative. Interestingly, all these films deal with young people – children, teenagers, and young adults. Directed by Shen Keshang and Lian Jingyao, Baseball Boys (2009), a documentary look at an elementary-school baseball team, shares this aesthetic orientation.
Set at Hualian County’s Fuyuan Elementary School, the documentary centers on a baseball team of fifth- and sixth-graders who hope to compete in the national little-league championships. The tournament is also a focus of the film. Intertitles provide silent narration from time to time, serving not only to introduce characters as they appear in the film, but also to advance the plot. It’s worth noting that victory and defeatare as inevitable as the growth process – in fact, time is the children’s true enemy.
So how do the kids find time for baseball and homework? How do they adapt to living together? Apart from casting baseball as a metaphor for a national narrative, Baseball Boys looks at how the young players – living in a remote area of Hualian County – face modern linear time’s inexorable progression. Thus we see students’ graduation photos, the scrawled well-wishes in their yearbooks, a boy who constantly pitches to target drawn on a wall, and another boy who singlehandedly throws, hits, and catches a baseball – all highlight a fight against time, a strenuous effort to stay locked in childhood.
Interestingly, in the two games shown in the documentary, Fuyuan Elementary School first faces Changhua’s Lianxing Elementary School, and then Tainan’s Chongxue Elementary School; Fuyuan beats the former but loses to the latter. Defeat comes without warning, as unpredictable as life’s complex metamorphoses: When a Fuyuan player is called out for taking too big a lead-off from first base, the game abruptly ends, the team eliminated from competition. The players then return to Hualian and graduation from elementary school.
The most interesting thing about the film isn’t the exciting action on the baseball field, the hits and the errors, but the interaction between team members and their families – parents cheering their kids on from the bleachers, a student getting hit in the eye by a ball and then trying to console his father, a mother seeing her son off on the team bus. Mothers and fathers not only parent their children; they are also a way for the children to imagine the future: Will the kids remain in rural Hualian? The conflict over whether to stay or go continues on from generation to generation, for after graduation the game of life will formally begin for the baseball boys.
|Related Literary Themes：||Young Adult|