New York Asian Film Festival 2012: Honey Pupu

07/03/2012 11:18 AM |

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Honey Pupu, from Taiwan, will have two screenings at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival, the first this Thursday, July 5th, at 1:30pm, and the second on Sunday, July 8th at 10:30pm.

It sounds simple enough: The boyfriend of a young, rumination-prone woman, Vicky (Tseng Peiyu), goes missing without warning on New Year’s Day, and she resolves to track him down by confronting a constellation of his online friends “IRL.” And yet to describe the lyrically elliptical Honey Pupu with the previous sentence is akin to glossing Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives as the story of a family reunion. Such synopses provide us with vaguely accurate thumbnails but ignore the throbbing structural wounds that endow both movies with purpose. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Palme D’Or winner had the steady, bewildering cadence of epic poetry on which Oulipian pranksters had gone to town; the narrative design of Chen Hung-i’s Honey Pupu likewise mimics the digital clusters of identity to be weeded through on the Web 2.0.

The film’s roster of supporting characters are known by single-word handles suggestive of chat room anonymity—the inveterate consumer Cola (Chiu Shengyi), the feisty Money (Lin Chenshi), and the irascible Assassin (Lin Posheng)—though their on-screen actions earn these monikers quickly. These three teens, who routinely trade aphorisms via text, are obsessed with absence; they run Missing.com, to which Vicky’s ex-beaux contributed under the name Dog, and they walk around Taipei sadly noting the closure of Tower Records and grocery stores. Hoping to get their help with her manhunt, Vicky falls in with the trio—who are half-embroiled in a love triangle—and presents them with her only clue, an irresistible anachronism: A floppy disc without a drive. From there, the plot doesn’t so much develop as propagate like mold in a neon Petri dish. Various events emerge and disappear, some of them real and some of them imagined—or perhaps imagined and then realized in videos made for the web, judging from the bleached-out, cornea-blasting color cinematography.

These episodes shuttle us somewhat recklessly between comedy, tragedy, and lustiness, and, attention spans being what they are these days, the original mystery nearly evaporates entirely at the start of the third act. But this tonal dissonance is infused with existential and social network-specific dread. Information strands called up on the beacon-like cellphones and shrine-ish laptops suggest that nothing disappears in the digital age without leaving behind a trail of crystallized zeroes and ones. The characters’ online avatars, furthermore, don’t so much immortalize their flesh and blood counterparts as fossilize something of their heartbreak and arrogance. Honey bees may soon go extinct, as Vicky continually notes, but our web-preening on their departure—on any and every subject—will be trapped indefinitely in Google’s cache, like mosquitoes in amber.