Trouble Girl

European Premiere | In Competition | White Mulberry Award Candidate

When we see media coverage or films about children with mental disorders, parents are portrayed as either unselfish and loving or irredeemably abusive and cruel. But in one of the most honest portrayals of a family dealing with a child suffering from ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder], Trouble Girl finds a middle ground, showing an imperfect mother who tries her best, but always seems to be losing her grip on a daughter who is far from easy to deal with.

ADHD can be a tricky disorder to portray in a film. Those suffering from it are often high-functioning and can easily be mistaken for just being restless or selfish. In Trouble Girl, fifth-grader Xiao-xiao (Audrey Lin) is emotionally unstable, easily agitated and often neglectful of people’s feelings. That makes her a handful at school and for her mother, Wei-fang (Chen Yi-han). With her husband absent most of the time, Wei-fang has fallen into the arms of Paul (Terrance Lau), a handsome teacher from Hong Kong who also happens to be Xiao-xiao’s English teacher.

The “trouble” in Trouble Girl isn’t so much a reference to Xiao-xiao’s troubled state as it is to the trouble that her condition can bring to those around her. Wei-fang gave up a career as a professional pianist to take care for Xiao-xiao, who is often ungrateful for her efforts; Paul goes out of his way to give Xiao-xiao special treatment inside and outside school despite the trouble it could land him in; Xiao-xiao’s classmates are always at odds with her because her actions can be perceived as antisocial and even hostile.

The strength of director Chin Chia-hua’s script is how often it defies conventions and doesn’t hesitate to display his characters’ imperfections. Far from a picture-perfect mother, Wei-fang is often impatient and even resentful of Xiao-xiao. Paul shows Xiao-xiao a great deal of kindness, but we never know whether it’s because of his relationship with Wei-fang or because he genuinely cares for his troubled student. For audiences, Xiaoxiao’s behaviour makes her a character who is hard to immediately embrace.

The bullying that Xiao-xiao suffers at school and some of her interactions with Wei-fang can be hard to watch, especially when they sometimes cross the line into emotional abuse, but Chin’s raw approach to these three troubled characters is never less than honest and sympathetic. Chin places himself in the perspective of an empathetic observer, which means we never truly get to be inside the heads of the characters enough to accept their actions, but we understand why they do it (or in Xiao-xiao’s case, she can’t even control it). Thanks to strong performances from his three stars – especially Lin, who became the youngest winner of Best Actress at the Golden Horse Awards for her revelatory performance as Xiao-xiao – Chin has made a rare and candid exploration of ADHD that should inspire difficult real-world discussions about the disorder and how to live with it.

Kevin Ma
Film director: CHIN Chia-hua
Year: 2023
Running time: 103'
Country: Taiwan
25/04 - 4:35 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
25-04-2024 16:35 25-04-2024 18:18Europe/Rome Trouble Girl Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine