Honey PuPu

Xiao Shi Da Kan
2011 / 103m - Taiwan
Honey PuPu poster

Without a single doubt, without any form of competition, this is the best film of 2011. And while Honey PuPu can't claim absolute originality (pk.com.cn precedes it), it's still the most beautiful, unique and skillfully executed film I've seen in its genre. So take a minute to find out why you definitely need to watch this, more so than anything else produced in 2011. I can't guarantee you'll like it, but in this case the experience is actually more important.

screen capture of Honey PuPu [Xiao Shi Da Kan]

Within the heart of Honey PuPu echoes the voice of a new generation. Not a new generation of film makers mind, but a generation of people who grew up in a different world than we did. Most reviewers do seem to realize this, but not everyone seems to understand that it runs deeper than what you can see on-screen. Sure the film features websites, headphones and mobile phones, dictating the world of the main characters, but there are more profound and important differences with traditional film making, playing right beneath the surface.

The key difference can be found in the way we are brought up to process information as individuals. When I was young and I wanted to read up on a particular subject I reached for an encyclopedia. This gave me a bunch of facts and interpretations concerning a particular subject. Nowadays people turn to google, and sure enough a wiki page will pop up telling them pretty much the same things I was told. But the wiki page is just one simple search result amongst a range of hundreds and thousands of other impressions. Searching for information doesn't just lead to processing dry facts anymore, it opens up a full window of different media and different impressions that make up a more thorough and complex web of information.

This is where Honey PuPu differs from what we have come to know as cinema. Traditional cinema builds up a concept to illustrate the message or intentions of a writer or director. Depth and meaning are assumed by focusing on and expanding a single view, or in some cases the interaction between separate (often conflicting) views. It's the encyclopedia way of film making where we have one single access point and one voice teaching us about the central theme. Honey PuPu is nothing like that. It's a collage of opinions, views and interpretations that are connected by a single central theme, but stand firmly by themselves. "Truth" and "meaning" are found in this intricate web of information instead of trying to find it in one single statement. There is only a central theme and the director's personal selection of impressions related to this theme. The result is an experience much richer and impressive than any traditional film could ever produce.

screen capture of Honey PuPu [Xiao Shi Da Kan]

All the above is nice of course, but you still need some solid talent to make it work as a film. With Hung-i Chen in the director's chair, there is nothing to worry about though. Visually this film is absolute stunning from start to finish. It's awesome to see Chen blend visual styles and atmospheres in a very natural and organic way. There are for example no specific, stand-alone animation sequences, but some scenes do make use of partial animation which is perfectly integrated with the live action imagery. Chen's box of tricks is rich and beautiful, supplying each segment with the proper atmosphere and leaving behind a truly stunning visual impression.

The soundtrack illustrates a similar understanding of how to blend different musical styles and atmospheres. While essentially a poppy soundtrack, there are firm traces of hip-hop and electronic music which continuously weave themselves together in order to make an all-round impressive score. Chen has a background in directing music videos which clearly shows in the way he handles the music here. In short: the combination of visuals and score alone should make this film worth your time.

Most of the cast consists of youngsters, who I assume felt quite at home within the boundaries this film set out. The acting is pure and natural, while still keeping a very young and modern edge. Po-sheng Lin is the biggest discovery if you ask me, but the rest of the cast is not far behind in terms of fleshing out their characters. Impressive performances throughout that effectively lift the film to even higher grounds and hopefully mean the start of a bright career for the main cast.

screen capture of Honey PuPu [Xiao Shi Da Kan]

The central theme of Honey PuPu is "missing", around this theme several stories are wrapped and explored. These stories are tied together by a website where missing people can be reported and traced, but all of that is just a hook to allow for more impressions and takes on what it means to miss or disappear. From boyfriends that left without a word of warning to lost bee populations, from nostalgia to lack of logic, it all flows in and out of view. Some ideas and issues are resolved, others are merely introduced and left to linger.

The result is a rather dreamy, poetic and refreshingly modern collage around one central theme. There is no single consensus or message, but that does not result in a lack of depth, on the contrary. The key to the "missing" theme can be found somewhere amidst all these different impressions and views, the feeling the film leaves behind is that of a broader understanding of the central theme rather than a heavily constructed and explored message forced down your throat. The voice of the director isn't lost in all this, but can be found in the actual choice of information rather than the single message most films carry with them.

And that is why this is a film by and for a new generation of people. Not because you see people interacting through websites and mobile phones in this film, but because Honey PuPu presents its theme in a radically different manner. Everything is a mash-up, a mix, a collage of ideas and perceptions, some personal, some found elsewhere. Watching this executed by a talented director is a truly unique experience that will hopefully develop into a full-fledged branch of cinema. I'm convinced it's still to early for this to actually happen (most films critics aren't going to be ready for a film like this), but films like Honey PuPu and pk.com.cn are definitely the beginning of something fresh and new. If you see only one film in 2011, make it this one.