Child Of The Cat
The Last Day Of Molly
ADHD is Necessary
At first glance, On Children looks and feels like an Asian Black Mirror copycat. Although the anthology format and dark, uncomfortable themes bear some resemble to Charlie Brooker’s near-future series, On Children moves to the beat of its own drum. Predominantly focusing on extreme societal and familial pressures, On Children’s five feature length episodes explore different slices of Asian culture whilst remaining enjoyable and engrossing throughout. With each episode over 90 minutes long and the entire series spoken in Mandarin, there’s a fair amount of content to get through here (and read if you’re not fluent in Mandarin) but if you’re willing to invest the time into this one, and you should, On Children makes for an incredibly rewarding watch.
The first story, called Mother’s Remote, imagines a world where a remote control can literally control your child’s life, rewinding time at a whim to retake failed tests and prevent him or her from being mixed up with the wrong crowd. Told from the perspective of exasperated high-schooler Pei Wei (Tzu-Chuan Liu), this nightmarish concept is explored through a blossoming romance that goes horribly wrong when Pei Wei’s fruitless attempts to hide it from his mother fail. This episode in particular is helped by an empathetic protagonist in Pei Wei and an impressively edited narrative that oozes confidence and solid writing throughout.
Following this excellent episode is Child Of The Cat, a bizarrely written story that takes the societal pressures of trying to outshine your siblings, throws in a box of kittens and a parallel dimension and runs with it. This episode is arguably the weakest of the five, with a tendency to become a little convoluted for its own good and a protagonist that has a tendency to overact at crucial emotional moments but the episode is enjoyable to watch nonetheless.
The Last Day Of Molly is arguably the best episode out of the five. A beautifully shot opening scene sets the tone and mood for what’s to follow in this 90 minute episode. One solitary static camera shows a mother and daughter sit across the room from one another. The daughter, Molly (Gingle Wang), gets up, opens the balcony door and jumps to her death. This shockingly abrupt opener is followed by a shocking and oftentimes saddening look at the events that led to her untimely demise through the eyes of her exasperated mother (Ivy Yin) and futuristic technology that allows you to view memories.
When it comes to the most unique episode, that accolade certainly goes to Peacock. Shot with sickeningly hedonistic colours, a talking peacock that grants wishes for a price and a mischievous musical score, Peacock is as bizarre as it is enticing. The story takes a dark turn mid-way through the episode and plays on the message of “be careful what you wish for” which seeps through every asset of this episode.
Rounding out the five episodes is the depressing, authoritarian episode ADHD Is Necessary which imagines a world where only the best children are allowed to survive while the weak fall into the “Pigeon Cage”…or worse. The episode works well, shifting the focus between both Mother and Daughter, showing their differing opinions on the society they live in. To give too much away would be to spoil some of the big emotional reveals here but suffice to say the ending is dread-inducing and may leave you feeling more than a little uneasy.
If there’s one thing On Children excels at, it’s the use of colour throughout the series. Whether it be the predominant use of bright, saturated colours in Peacock or the muted scheme in Mother’s Remote with the use of soft pinks and whites, On Children’s aesthetic is perfectly balanced and a testament to some of the great cinematography on display here. Although some of the camera work is a little clumsy at times, especially for some of the more artistic shots, On Children’s cinematography matches up to its involving storylines, making this an impressive anthology of dark sci-fi tales.
While many may look at this with cynicism and write it off as another Black Mirror copy-cat, On Children is a completely different proposition altogether, one that manages to nail its premise with confidence and artistic flair. Although there is a tendency to pepper the episodes with some over-acting and culturally specific familial relations, On Children manages to produce an enthralling, well written collection of sci-fi episodes that could arguably be good enough to stand as their own feature length films. With a good variety of stories, On Childen is one of the best Asian dramas to be released in quite some time and one that Western audiences really should invest the time to watch.