A deliriously wild mix of Web-based youth culture, fantasia and memory, Chen Hung-I’s dreamy “Honey Pupu” is the work of a strong voice uninterested in conventional narrative rules. The basic premise of a radio DJ dealing with her missing b.f. spins off a curious galaxy of characters and side stories, resulting in one of the few recent films that grasps the Internet as a way of viewing the world. Deserving of even wider fest play than it’s received so far, the pic has cult potential among seekers of exotic contempo creations.
Vicky (Tseng Peiyu) is at a loss to figure out how her b.f., Dog (Lee Tachi), has seemingly vanished, with few, if any, clues as to his whereabouts. Her memories of recently sharing New Year’s with him stirs her to consider that what’s coming is “the year without him.”
One of Dog’s favorite websites, Missing.com, may offer some help. Run by a trio of emotionally volatile young people going by the nicknames of Cola (Chiu Shengyi), Money (Lin Chenshi) and Assassin (Lin Posheng), the site is festooned with messages like “Believe in the parallel world,” positing alternate dimensions where many people who have disappeared may actually be living.
Whereas a more standard treatment of these elements would likely have resulted in a variation of now-familiar themes in the romantic science-fiction subgenre, Chen’s approach suggests a Wong Kar Wai film made by a younger, more new-media-influenced talent. Alternately fluid and jarring, consistently keeping viewers uncertain as to what they’re viewing and even where they are, the film plays on the paradox of young people obsessed with virtual and invisible worlds, but always yanked back into this less-satisfying one.
For all their supposed visions, Cola, Assassin and Money are progressively bogged down by a love triangle that grows uglier as Cola helps Vicky. As befits his name, Assassin is prone to borderline-violent reactions and doesn’t take too kindly to Cola’s moves on Money, the least perturbed of the three and the one most willing to live in the moment.
Chen’s constant shifts in character focus are just enough to make “Honey Pupu” a rather woozy experience, but not so much that it loses its central axis. As a result, the film’s final resolutions are satisfyingly of a piece with Vicky’s attempts to understand herself better, even through a maze of barely comprehensible poetry, Web doodlings and wanderings through a slightly futuristic-looking Taipei.
Key to the film’s achievement is Fisher Yu’s fantastic widescreen cinematography, which could be a calling card for bigger projects. The rainbow-like imagery, tonal shifts and frequent changes in location and mood perfectly fit the film’s overall conception, as does Kang Chunwei’s production design. Keeping it all in place are editors Chen, Liu Yuaxing and co-writer Lin Fujing. Wu-wu Chang’s resonant score includes a surprising number of music cues, from Beethoven to Berlioz.