A group of girls form an exclusive group at their international school in Hong Kong, where they study to get into Ivy League schools, party with expats in nightclubs and gossip about one another, mostly over their phones.
When one of their group, Chloe, spots ex-childhood friend Lily making out with a guy, she shares a racy video of it with the group in an effort to boost her status. But she has to soon reckon with the consequences of her actions, both socially and emotionally.
Writer-director Anna Mikami’s short director is a coming-of-age story about the insecurities and desires driving Chloe.
Chloe is the bully in this situation, but she comes across as lost and hesitant in her world, almost as if she’s drifting through her life and going through the motions of what is expected of her. Mikami takes on the role of Chloe with great subtlety and sensitivity, offering insight into just why she would want to humiliate her former friend.
Her “stock” in her group seems to go up, but she soon experiences her version of a “fall,” learning that even rising to the top doesn’t guarantee a more secure feeling of belonging or acceptance.
The film is a pointed portrayal of the Darwinian dynamics of popularity, shame and technology. But it is also just as much a story of milieu and social environment, looking at how teen girls grow into adulthood in such a syncretic city like Hong Kong, with all its international influences and its legacy of colonialism. The camerawork and sound design is almost documentary-like, letting small details speak for themselves, whether it’s the way the girls’ faces are lit by the omnipresent screens of their phones or the constant pings in the background noise.
What’s most striking is how disassociated the characters seems to be, often isolated with just a phone for company. Even when in groups, the people rarely relate to one another, focusing instead on their ever-pressing phone notifications. They are adrift in the neon-lit skyscapes and concrete monuments of the city, wrapped in the bubble of wealth, popularity and privilege, with very little sense of connection or compass. “Clique Bait” often feels profoundly lonely, mirroring the way Chloe feels within.
The result is a subtle, intelligently written film that offers a lens into a rarely seen world, as well as one girl’s difficult lesson about betrayal, both of her childhood friend and her own sense of right and wrong. In a world where privilege and technology makes it easier to insulate ourselves from the consequences of our action, we’re still left with the knowledge of it within ourselves — which may only isolate us further from those we need to connect with the most.