Honey PuPu (Taiwan, 2011) [NYAFF 2012]
Honey PuPu is one of the most singular works to come out of Asia in quite some time. Its take on the modern world is fiercely original and, by employing a dizzying array of different formats and techniques, it seeks to recount its philosophical and energetic tale of how people’s identities are shaped and disrupted by the world’s aggressive virtualization. Chen Hung-i’s film combines gorgeous and whimsical cinematography with other techniques such as a futuristic platform for social media, photography and a veritable bounty of editing techniques. It features a terrific soundtrack, quickly oscillating between classical pieces to modern electro music, and is a film unlike any other.
Vicky is a radio hostess who is searching for her lover who has disappeared. She seeks the help of a number of young people she has encountered through social media with monikers like Cola, Assassin, Money and Playing. They are all lost souls, seeking answers through the hyperkinetic communication networks of the modern world.
Disappearance and the fear of the loss of one’s identity are the crucial themes of Honey PuPu. Much of the film references the alarming evanescence of the bee population that may or may not be because of the increasing amount of radio waves being given off by our mobile devices. In turn, the film seems to ask whether these phones and laptops are contributing to the evaporation of our personal identities within an increasingly more complex society.
Before walking into Honey PuPu, you should know that rather than being a story about Vicky and the virtual ciphers that flit through the images that rush by onscreen, the film is about the world we live in today. It is about the seismic change occurring to the fabric of our life and the many tassels that loosely bind us together. The relationships in this film and the way in which its characters interact with one another are alien to us and yet eerily familiar; it is a world that is just around the corner and just like a jolt of déjà vu, it’s almost as though we’ve already seen it.
Perhaps we do know what’s ahead of us, what lies in store. And while it may not look exactly like the world that Chen has sculpted in Honey PuPu, the issues that he brings to the for, the suggested ramifications he folds into the images and his depiction of the strange, obfuscated future that lies in wait, all come together to both trap and release us.
Are we hurtling down a path where we will lose ourselves to the pixelated and faceless fracturing of our identity, or will we come closer to the answers we seek, regarding life, relationships and perhaps even the meaning of our existence? Honey PuPu may mourn the looming loss of our species’ tactility but it also shows a world where we can come together like never before, where we can create at will, a world and a system with the potential to instantly convey what lies inside us. No more jumping through hoops, just a direct line to the truth.
The film is both bright and dark and depending on what you value in your own life, Honey PuPu could bloom before you into an auspicious work, celebrating our own potential, just as it could make your blood run cold and have you dread the change that lies in store. Either way, it is an important film and its value should only increase over time though only the future will be able to reveal how close it came to the mark. Then again, this is not a film seeking to be a vraisemblance, it is simply asking us to open our eyes and to think about what our world means to us and how its changing could affect us. Poignant, beautiful and prescient, Honey PuPu is a dizzying cinematic experience and may very well be a masterpiece. Miss it at your peril.
Pierce Conran writes for Modern Korean Cinema, Twitch and currently lives in South Korea.