NYAFF 2012 Review: HONEY PUPU, Too Sweet For Its Own Good

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
While Niels Matthijs called Chen Hung-I's film about the wired youth in contemporary Taipei the "best film of 2011" and in our NYAFF preview I cited it as a "must-see" of the fest, it is a film that will most certainly divide audiences. Here with an entirely different take on Honey Pupu is our correspondent Alexander Thebez.


Honey Pupu is a poetic exploration of loss in a world of rapid development and evolving digital realities. Written and directed by Chen Hung-I, the film stars a young and attractive cast of characters. Worlds collide as a beautiful evening radio DJ, Vicky (Tseng Peiyu), mourns the disappearance of her lover. Previously known as "Dog" (Lee Taichi), Vicky's lover had shared snippets of his thoughts to others on an online community he was apart of. Going through Dog's archive of "tweets," Vicky acquaints herself with the other users from the website: Assassin (Lin Posheng), Money (Lin Chenshi), Cola (Chiu Shengyi), and Playing (Hsieh Hsinying). 



The title of the film, Honey Pupu draws on the metaphor of the honeybees. "Sweet like Honey, sting like a bee" flashes on screen as Vicky's smoky voice whispers under her breath unto a microphone: "Poor bees, they cannot find their way home." Bees continually make an appearance throughout the film, whether literally or within dialogues between the characters. Why? I'm not too sure myself. At the beginning of the film Vicky describes the phenomenon of the disappearing bees due to human actions. The bees disappear, but their bodies are nowhere to be found. The disappearance of the bees mirrors the disappearance of various individuals within the storyline.



A variety of people from different walks of life disappear without a trace while Vicky and the cast meander through the city attempting to recall their memories. While Vicky wanders the city with a camera to trace the steps Dog had taken from pictures that he left behind, the other characters roam the city to reminisce of things from their pasts that are no longer there.



The movie is beautiful, almost as beautiful as its cast. But the beauty of the film seems to be wasted as the characters embarrassingly spiral out of control in cringe-worthy melodrama. Cola is in love with the adventurous Money, who is dating the hot-blooded Assassin. Meanwhile, Playing is busy playing dangerous, risky games with random men who want to sleep with her. 



The plot of the film is loose at best as each character functions as symbols to the ideas in this fantastical movie. I am not one against non-linear or non-traditional narratives; however, Honey Pupu seems to kind of miss its own point almost completely. I am sure that Chen Hung-I is attempting to convey a sort of nostalgia of the recent generation in Honey Pupu, a concern that seems to be magnified by living in an urban space that is rapidly changing. But Honey Pupu, as a film, fails to present anything meaningful or even memorable about these ideas that it tries to touch on. Tai Pin Pin, a Singaporean documentary filmmaker had made a sort of "trilogy" (Singapore Gaga, Invisible City and Moving House) exploring similar ideas in a different way but more successfully. 



The over the top reactions between the characters, the awkward use of disconnected English phrases and forcefully poignant scenes that occupy the film make Honey Pupu something that is a bit hard to sit through. Honey Pupu really tries to appeal to your feelings. Unfortunately, it was unsuccessful in its attempt to appeal to mine. Instead it pushed me away, and kind of repelled me like a terrible Livejournal blog.



Honey Pupu is screening on Thursday July 5 (01:30PM) and Sunday, July 8 (10:30PM) at Lincoln Center as part of the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival. Click here for more info and tickets. 

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  • Niels Matthijs

    "Bees continually make an appearance throughout the film, whether literally or within dialogues between the characters. Why? I'm not too sure myself."

    Simply because it struck a cord with the director I guess. It's pretty much what this film is about. Google something, land on something marginally related and get caught up in that (the popularity of Wikipedia right there). Then mix it into what you are making. It's telling for how the new generation processes and remixes information to create something of their own.




    The link between the theme of the film ("missing") and the story of the bees is clear, so it simply became a returning thread in the film. The same goes for some other returning elements.




    Not to come off as a complete asshole (you know, the "you just didn't get it" kind), but I think you need the proper affinity with this particular mentality to fully appreciate the film :)

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