Asian Pop-Up Cinema Returns for Season 15!

Asian Pop-Up Cinema returns for its 15th season in cinemas across Chicago with selected films streaming to homes across the US from Sept. 10 to Nov. 6. Each weekend will be dedicated to a specific region including: China (Sept.10 -16), Japan (Sept. 17 – 23), South Korea (Sept. 24 – Oct. 2), Taiwan (Oct. 22 – 23) and Hong Kong (Oct. 29 – Nov. 6) while this season’s Bright Star Awards go to Hong Kong actress Jennifer Yu and Korean actor Jeong Jae-kwang who will each be appearing in person before screenings of their respective films.


(September 10-16, Claudia Cassidy Theater & AMC New City 14)

Saturday, September 10, 11 AM: The Magical Craftsmanship of Suzhou (天工苏作, Sun Zeng-tian, 2022)

Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington St., Chicago)  

Documentary focusing on 12 artisans trying to keep traditional folk arts alive in contemporary Suzhou.

Official Opening Film 

Saturday, September 10, 2 PM: I Am What I Am, (雄獅少年, Sun Hai-peng, 2021)

Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington St., Chicago) 

Animation from Sun Hai-Peng set in rural Guangdong and following left behind teen Gyun who develops a fascination with traditional lion dance and sets off with two friends to find a lion dancing master.

September 10-16 Streaming available for U.S. views @ 

Back To Love (带你去见我妈, Lan Hong-chun, 2021)

Drama in which a man returns from the city to his rural hometown to introduce his girlfriend in the hope that his mother will stop trying to arrange marriages for him but is fraught with anxiety as the woman he loves has been married before.

Embrace Again (穿过寒冬拥抱你, Xue Xiao-lu, 2021)

Drama starring Huang Bo and featuring a series of interconnected tales set during the early days of the pandemic.

Schemes In Antiques (古董局中局, Derek Kwok, 2021)

The owner of an electronics store keen to shake off his family’s legacy of disgrace because of an ancestor’s treachery selling a precious artefact to the Japanese is drawn swept into intrigue when the relic is returned.


(September 17 – 23, Wilmette Theater, 1122 Central Ave., Wilmette, IL) 

Japan Cinema Showcase special host:  Mark Schilling, author/critic of Japan Times  

Saturday, September 17, 2pm: Noise (ノイズ, Ryuichi Hiroki, 2022) 

Darkly comic thriller from Ryuichi Hiroki in which the previously close relationship between three childhood friends is strained when they find themselves trying to cover up a murder. Review.

Saturday, September 17, 4:30 PM: Alivehoon (アライブフーン, Ten Shimoyama) 

Drift racing drama supervised by Keiichi Tsuchiya in which a shy, introverted gamer is scouted by a team on the verge of shutting down.

Sunday, September 18, 2 PM: Popran (ポプラン, Shinichiro Ueda, 2022) 

A self-involved CEO gets a course correction when his genitals suddenly decide to leave him in Shinichiro Ueda’s surreal morality tale. Review.

Sunday, September 18, 4:30 PM: The Fish Tale (さかなのこ, Shuichi Okita, 2022)  

The infinite enthusiasm of a fish obsessive gradually brightens the world around them in Shuichi Okita’s charming portrait of an eccentric. Review.

September 17-23 Streaming available for U.S. views @ 

Struggling Man (私はいったい、何と闘っているのか  Toshio Lee, 2021)

A veteran employee of a grocery store finds his life disrupted when his manager dies and HQ sends in an executive to replace him while his eldest daughter’s engagement shakes the foundations of his family life.

South Korea

(September 24 – October 2, AMC Niles 12, (301 Golf Mill Center, Niles, IL)

Saturday, September 24, 2:30 PM: Fairy (요정, Shin Tack-su, 2021)

A pair of cafe owners who got married but decided to continue running separate cafes experience a mysterious uptick in business after they hit a boy with their car and decide to keep in their house to cover up the crime.

Saturday, September 24, 4:30 PM: Mother’s Place (엄마의 자리, Ryu Hee-jung, 2022) 

A young girl’s concept of family is undermined when her mother and step-father are killed in an accident but the relatives refuse to let them be buried together.

Sunday, September 25, 2:30PM: Director’s Intention (영화의 거리, Kim Min-geun, 2021)  

A location manager is faced with a difficult situation when she realises the director of the latest film she’s working on is the hometown boyfriend of her youth.

Sunday, September 25, 4:30 PM: Not Out (낫아웃, Lee Jung-gon, 2021) 

Actor Jeong Jae-kwang will be appearing in person to pick up his Bright Star Award.

A young man goes to drastic lengths to make his baseball dreams come true in Lee Jung-gon’s unexpectedly dark character study. Review.

Saturday, October 1, 2:30 PM: Chorokbam (초록밤, Yoon Seo-jin, 2021)  

A small family contend with the persistent unfairness of the contemporary society in Yoon Seo-jin’s slow burn indie drama. Review.

Saturday, October 1, 4:30 PM: My Perfect Roommate (룸 쉐어링, Lee Soon-sung, 2022) 

A kind young student and grumpy granny eventually discover a new sense of familial comfort after living together as part of a house sharing programme in Lee Soon-sung’s heartwarming drama.


Sunday, October 2, 2:30 PM: Chun Tae-il: A Flame That Lives On (태일이, Hong Jun-pyo, 2021)

Animated biopic of labour activist Chun Tae-il who took his own life through self-immolation in protest against the failure to enforce existing labour law or protect workers from unhealthy and exploitative conditions. Review.

Sunday, October 2, 4:30 PM: Stellar: A Magical Ride  (스텔라, Kwon Soo-kyung, 2022) 

A cynical man makes peace with his father’s memory while driving his possibly haunted and very rundown Hyundai Stellar in Kwon Soo-kyung’s charmingly quirky road movie. Review.


(October 22-23, Illinois Institute of Technology, Tower Auditorium, 10 W. 35th St., Chicago) 

Saturday, October 22, 2:30 PM: Hello! Tapir (神獸, Kethsvin Chee, 2020) 

A small boy begins to process grief and loss while searching for nightmare-eating tapirs in Kethsvin Chee’s charmingly retro fantasy adventure. Review.

Saturday, October 22, 4:30 PM: Chen Uen (千年一問, Wang Wan-jo, 2021) 

Using a mix of interviews and animatics, Wang’s elegantly lensed documentary presents an enigmatic picture of the legendary pioneer of Taiwanese comics. Review.

Sunday, October 23, 2:30 PM: Shiro – Hero of Heroes (諸葛四郎 – 英雄的英雄, Lin Yu-chun & Chuang Yung-hsin, Liu Yu-shu, 2022)

Family animation inspired by the classic Taiwanese comic book JhugeShiro in which the Demon Society is after the Dragon and Phoenix sword leaving the hero, Shiro, to protect both the swords and the princess from the evil Ping.

Sunday, October 23, 4:30 PM: City of Lost Things (廢棄之城, Yee Chih-yen, 2021) 

An alienated teen finds a place to belong in Trash City only to instantly betray his new paradise in Yee Chin-Yen’s inspirational family animation. Review.

Hong Kong

(October 29 – November 6, FACETS Cinema and AMC New City 14).

Saturday, October 29, 2:30 PM:  The Narrow Road (窄路微麈, Lam Sum, 2021)

AMC New City 14, 1500 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago, IL 60610

An earnest middle-aged man running a struggling cleaning business amid the difficult economic background of the coronavirus pandemic bonds with a young single mother in Lam Sum’s elegantly lensed social drama.

Saturday, October 29, 4:30 PM: Deliverance (源生罪, Kelvin Shum, 2021)

AMC New City 14 

A woman returns to Hong Kong 15 years after her mother’s death and is forced to confront her unresolved trauma after undergoing hypnosis.

Celebrating Halloween at FACETS Cinema

(1517 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago)  

Sunday, October 30, 2:30 PM:  Tales From the Occult (失衡凶間, Wesley Hoi, Fruit Chan, Fung Chih-chiang, 2022)

Hong Kongers contend with the hidden horrors of the contemporary society in the first instalment in a series of anthology horror films . Review.

Sunday, October 30, 5:30 PM: Rigor Mortis (殭屍, Juno Mak, 2014)

Juno Mak’s 2014 take on the hopping vampire movie in which a struggling actor moves in to a rundown tenement populated mainly by ghosts.

Saturday, November 5, 2 PM: Far Far Away (緣路山旮旯, Amos Why, 2021)

AMC New City 14 

An introverted IT guy (Kaki Sham) gets a crash course in romance when he ends up dating a series of women from the far flung corners of Hong Kong in Amos Why’s charming romantic comedy. Review.

Saturday, November 5, 5 PM: The First Girl I Loved (喜歡妳是妳, Candy Ng, Yeung Chiu-hoi, 2021)

AMC New City 14 

A young woman begins to re-evaluate her teenage romance when her first love asks her to be maid of honour at her wedding in Yeung & Ng’s youth nostalgia romance. Review.

Sunday, November 6, 2 PM: Pretty Heart (心裏美, Terry Ng Ka-wai, 2022)

AMC New City 14 

Hong Kong’s Jennifer Yu (Far Far AwayMen on the DragonSisterhood) is this season’s Bright Star Award winner and will attend in person to receive the honour before the screening of her latest film, Pretty Heart, in which she stars as an idealistic high school teacher who is estranged from her headmaster father whom she blames for her mother’s death.

Closing Night

Sunday, November 6, 6 PM: Septet: The Story of Hong Kong (七人樂隊

AMC New City 14 

Seven-part anthology film featuring segments directed by Sammo Hung, Ann Hui, Patrick Tam, Yuen Wo-Ping, Johnnie To, the late Ringo Lam, and Tsui Hark exploring the past and future of Hong Kong from the 1950s to today.

Asian Pop-Up Cinema runs Sept. 10 to Nov. 6 at cinemas across Chicago with select films available to stream online throughout the US. Further details can be found on the official website and you can also keep up with all the latest news by following Asian Pop-up Cinema on  FacebookTwitter,  Instagram, and Vimeo.

Asian Pop-Up Cinema Announces First Wave of Titles for Season 15

Chicago’s Asian Pop-Up Cinema returns this September with another handpicked selection of recent Asian hits. Each weekend will be dedicated to a specific region including: China (Sept.10 -16), Japan (Sept. 17 – 23), South Korea (Sept. 24 – Oct. 2), Taiwan (Oct. 22 – 23) and Hong Kong (Oct. 29 – Nov. 6), and the festival has just announced some of its key titles with the full lineup to be unveiled Aug. 22.

Pre-festival Event

Aug. 27, 2.30pm: Kungfu Stuntmen

AMC River East 21

Wei Jun-Zi’s wide-ranging documentary looks back at 70 years of Hong Kong action cinema through the stories of the “kung fu stuntmen” who made it what it is today. Featuring interviews with such legendary figures as: Andrew Lau, Benny Lai, Yuen Mo, Sammo Hung, Stanley Tong, Tsui Siu-ming , Cheung Wing-Hon, Billy Chan, Tsui Hark, Wilson Tong, Lee Hoi-Sang, and Shen Hsin.


Sept. 10, 2pm: I Am What I Am

Claudia Cassidy Theater inside Chicago Cultural Center

Animation from Sun Hai-Peng set in rural Guangdong and following left behind teen Gyun who develops a fascination with traditional lion dance and sets off with two friends to find a lion dancing master.


Oct. 2, 2.30pm: Chun Tae-il: A Flame That Lives On

AMC Niles 12

Animated biopic of labour activist Chun Tae-il who took his own life through self-immolation in protest against the failure to enforce existing labour law or protect workers from unhealthy and exploitative conditions.


Nov. 6, 6pm: Septet: The Story of Hong Kong

AMC New City 14

Seven-part anthology film featuring segments directed by Sammo Hung, Ann Hui, Patrick Tam, Yuen Wo-Ping, Johnnie To, the late Ringo Lam, and Tsui Hark exploring the past and future of Hong Kong from the 1950s to today.

Bright Star Award: Jennifer Yu

Nov. 6: Pretty Heart

AMC New City 14

Hong Kong’s Jennifer Yu (Far Far Away, Men on the Dragon, Sisterhood) is this season’s Bright Star Award winner and will attend in person to receive the honour before the screening of her latest film, Pretty Heart, in which she stars as an idealistic high school teacher who is estranged from her headmaster father whom she blames for her mother’s death.

Asian Pop-Up Cinema Season 15 runs in Chicago Sept. 10 to Nov. 6. The full lineup will be revealed Aug. 22. Further details can be found on the official website and you can also keep up with all the latest news by following Asian Pop-up Cinema on  FacebookTwitter,  Instagram, and Vimeo.

In the Name of the Son (아들의 이름으로, Lee Jung-gook, 2021)

Partway through Lee Jung-gook’s raw exploration of the radiating effects of historical trauma In the Name of the Son (아들의 이름으로, Adeurui ireumeuro), the conflicted hero quotes a line from In Search of Lost Time which his son had recommended to him, “pain is only healed by thoroughly experiencing it”. The quote in itself reflects the hero’s wounded state in having failed to reckon with the sins of the past, a failing which has cost him dearly on a personal level, while simultaneously hinting at a national trauma which has never been fully addressed by the contemporary society. 

When we first meet ageing designated driver Chae-gun (Ahn Sung-ki) he’s preparing to hang himself in a forest before noticing a stray parakeet, presumably an escaped family pet, chirping nearby in desperation. Taking pity on the bird knowing it cannot survive on its own he gives up on his plans and takes it home. We can see that Chae-gun is a compassionate man, softly spoken, perhaps a little shy and distant yet caring deeply for those around him such as the ladies from Gwangju who run a cafe where he is a regular, while he’s frequently seen making phone calls to his son in America. Yet as we later discover he is also a man of violence with an old-fashioned, authoritarian mindset, ominously sliding off his belt to beat up a gang of kids who tried to dine and dash before making them come back to apologise and pay their bill and later doing the same to bullying classmates of the cafe owner’s son, Min-woo (Kim Hee-chan). 

He does these things less out of an old man’s disapproval of the younger generation’s lack of moral fibre than a genuine desire to help and most particularly the ladies at the cafe, but simultaneously takes Min-woo to task for a lack of manliness berating him in front of his bullies for not standing up for himself. These flashes of violence hark back to the hyper-masculine patriarchal attitudes that defined the years of dictatorship while also hinting at the buried self Chae-gun struggles to accept which so contrasts with his innate kindness and sense of justice. He too is angry and confused that those who ordered acts of atrocity such as the 1980 Gwangju Massacre have never been brought to justice and are living comfortable lives often still ensconced in country’s ruling elite such as former general Chairman Park whom he often drives home from a local Japanese restaurant to his mansion in a traditional village in the middle of Seoul. 

As we discover, Chae-gun has his own reasons for being preoccupied with Gwangju in particular, yet it’s the failure to reckon with the buried past that he fears erodes future possibility. In a metaphor that in truth is a little overworked, one of the new assistants at the cafe, also from Gwangju, is mute, literally without a voice until the buried truths of the massacre are symbolically unearthed allowing her to speak. Meanwhile, many of Chae-gun’s generation are succumbing to dementia, an elderly man constantly escaping from his nursing home to wander a local park looking for his teenage son who went missing during the uprising and was never seen again. Chairman Park remains unrepentant, blaming everything then and now on “commies” while explaining to Chae-gun that they were “patriots” not “murderers” bravely defending the Korean state and in any case God forgives all so they’ve no need to blame themselves. 

Park may feel no remorse but the unresolved trauma of Gwangju continues to echo not only through Chae-gun’s wounded soul but through society, a heated debate breaking out between a group young people of critical of the authoritarian past and a collection of older conservative nationalists who object to their criticism of President Park Chung-hee arguing that he rebuilt the economy and gave them the comfortable lives they live today. Yet what Chae-gun feels he owes to his son and implicitly to the younger generation is an honest reckoning with the past and his part in it while those who live with no remorse should not be allowed to prosper, guilt-free, as victims continue to suffer. What he’d say to those who thought that they bore no responsibility is that the greatest sin of all may have been in blindly following orders. Only by fully experiencing the pain of the national trauma can society hope to heal itself from the weeping wounds of the unresolved past.

In the Name of the Son streamed as part of the 14th season of Asian Pop-Up Cinema.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

My Big Mama’s Crazy Ride (큰엄마의 미친봉고, Paek Seung-hwan, 2021)

A veteran matriarch suddenly decides she’s had enough in Paek Seung-hwan’s indie comedy, My Big Mama’s Crazy Ride (큰엄마의 미친봉고, Keuneommaui michinbonggo). Taking aim not only at the deeply ingrained and hopelessly outdated patriarchal social codes of contemporary society, Paek also asks a series of questions about the concept of family with the wives and daughters-in-law repeatedly finding themselves described as “outsiders” yet expected to sacrifice their hopes and aspirations in dedicating themselves entirely to the “family” which more often than not treats them as unremunerated housekeepers. 

It’s easy enough to see why “Big Mama” Yeong-hui (Jung Young-joo) is fed up as her husband Han-il (Yu Seong-ju) barks orders from upstairs while she tries to sort out the food for the ancestral rites knowing the men are up there lounging around drinking just expecting everything to be done for them without needing to lift a finger to help. This year she’s choosing chaos, rounding up all of the other women in the family including Eun-seo (Kim Ga-eun) her nephew’s fiancée meeting the family for the first time and packing them into her minivan leaving the men to fend for themselves.  

This is a problem for them for several reasons the biggest being that it soon becomes clear they have no idea how to do anything for themselves, drill sergeant Han-il ordering his brother and sons to finish all the food prep within the hour while they search for YouTube videos to teach them basic cooking. They can barely even figure out how to make themselves some instant noodles while they wait, becoming progressively drunker to avoid facing the reality of their situation or accept that perhaps their treatment of their wives has been unfair or that they’ve taken all of their labour for granted. Old-fashioned authoritarian Han-il even approves of Yeong-hui’s flight in the beginning in the belief that she’s taken the other women out to teach them some discipline despite her having brought up the subject of divorce because of his own treatment of her. He doesn’t see his behaviour as essentially abusive because of the patriarchal social codes in which he operates believing this is simply the way that husbands are supposed to boss their wives. His brother and sons are little different though subordinate to him as head of the family, oldest song Hwang-sang (Song Dong-hwan) eventually kicking back but only after realising his mother may really leave profoundly shaking his foundations even as a grown man with a son of his own. 

Then again, aside from a potential divorce Yeong-hui is otherwise described as an “outsider” having married into the family most particularly when it comes to light that Han-il has sold some ancestral land and intended to keep the money for himself rather than share it amongst the other family members. When he sends the proceeds to Yeong-hui in a last ditch effort to get her to come home, it causes division on both sides with his brother Han-san (Yoo Byung-hoon) in particular objecting to the money leaving the family as Yeong-hui is technically a Lee and not a Yu while the women also think she should share the money with them rather than keep it for herself little knowing she was already planning to do so. Having serious doubts about marrying into this crazy family, Eun-seo, who is in any case Christian, isn’t sure why she was attending their ancestral rites anyway but if none of these women are actually “family” why is it they’re the ones expected to prepare the rites for the Yu ancestors? Yeong-hui sees the money in part as compensation for the unpaid labour she’s performed over the last 40 years while being shouted at and ordered around by her overbearing authoritarian husband. 

Thanks to YouTuber niece Hyo-jeong (Ha Jung-min) and sleazy tabloid journalist nephew Jae-sang (Cho Dal-hwan) the women’s flight ends up going viral and even making the evening news where they find mass support from other women in similar situations along with unexpected male solidarity though a big thumbs up from a series of male policemen seems a little unlikely given the threat they present to the entrenched social order in rebelling against the same kind of patriarchal male authority the police force itself represents. In any case, it becomes clear that Yeong-hui has simply chosen to celebrate her own ancestral rights in paying tribute to another woman whose name she only belatedly found out, the other women also revealing that they don’t even quite know each other’s given names because they’re so used to addressing each other only as daughter/sister-in-law or else as X’s mum to the extent that they’ve been robbed of an individual identity. Nevertheless through their transgressive road trip the women rediscover a sense of female solidarity while the men are forced to reckon with the way they treat their wives realising that if they want to keep their family together they’ll have to move with the times. 

My Big Mama’s Crazy Ride streamed as part of the 14th season of Asian Pop-Up Cinema.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Action Hero (액션히어로, Lee Jin-ho, 2021)

What better way to add a little authenticity to your movie than to unmask injustice live on camera? Lee Jin-ho’s indie action drama Action Hero (액션히어로) is a loving tribute to classic Shaw Brothers but also takes aim at the inequality at the heart of the contemporary society as the virtuous hero who says he just wants to be Jackie Chan starts a mini revolution in the student body after exposing the corrupt practices of their institution. 

Signalling his intentions early on, Lee opens with the “GB” “Golden Brothers” logo and a lengthy martial arts sequence spoken entirely in Cantonese with a classic Shaw Brothers-esque titles card, but as it turns out this is all an anxiety dream as the fearless hero finds himself unable to save a hostage because he cannot answer a question from the upcoming civil service exam. Dreaming of becoming an action star, Joosung (Lee Seok-hyung) decides to sit in on a film class which is where he meets Chanyeol (Lee Se-joon) who shows him a copy of an action movie shot by a former student, Sunna (Lee Joo-young), 10 years previously. Joosung decides to make his own film too and when he and Chanyeol accidentally come across a blackmail letter threatening to expose their professor’s falsification of records in order to admit the sons of wealthy men decide to stakeout the drop location hoping to apprehend the professor and the blackmailer and make it a part of their movie. 

Ironically enough, the previous Action Hero film had been about a culture of sexual harassment as Sunna herself starred as a martial arts avenger saving a young student from a lecherous teacher. 10 years on however Sunna still hasn’t finished her postgrad programme and is stuck as a teaching assistant working part-time at the campus coffee shop. Her colleague Jae-woo (Jang In-sub) is desperate for cash because he’s sick of this life and wants to open a friend chicken restaurant. Even Joosung is filled with despair for the future, working hard to pass the civil service exam even though it’s not something he actually wants to do. Meanwhile, the professor has been taking kickbacks so that chaebol sons with no talent can attend the university while their parents “support” from the sidelines. Perhaps conflicted in her actions, the offer of a promotion to department chair is enough to silence any qualms she might have hand while she’s eventually forced to confess all to the dean who is about to celebrate his 23rd re-inauguration which doesn’t exactly scream a commitment to democratic values. 

Yet through their “investigations” Joosung and Chanyeol discover that the institutional corruption in play was largely an open secret, so commonplace as to be dismissed as just the way things work. The justice-minded Joosung wonders why no one does anything, hoping that the students will eventually wake up to what’s going on and begin asking questions while wondering if they simply lack the “passion” to become their own kind of action heroes and demand integrity from their governmental body. Sunna, meanwhile, fed up with her impossible circumstances feeling as if she’s wasted too much time on Hong Kong cinema picks a different, not quite altogether altruistic path but later recommits herself to exposing the admissions fraud and corruption which go right to the heart of their institution. 

Lee continues to pay homage to the classic kung-fu movie with old school martial arts and use of freeze frame, Joosung wearing his Shaolin-style yellow top and Chanyeol at one point dressed as a classic kung fu master complete with long white beard only to discover themselves swept into a conspiracy deciding to unmask the injustice at the school. Then again, perhaps one action hero isn’t really enough to counter such ingrained corruption or the idea that this kind of impropriety has essentially become normalised and should just be accepted. Thanks to their adventures, each of the avengers is jolted out of their sense of inertia and powerlessness, Sunna realising she doesn’t need to let herself be exploited by her boss and can take control of her own future while Joosung and Chanyeol derive new hope for the future in squaring off against injustice. “The future is unclear, let’s persevere because we have each other” Joosung reflects in Cantonese on seeing the beginnings of a revolution on campus vowing to complete Action Hero 2 in the hope of a better tomorrow. 

Action Hero streamed as part of the 14th season of Asian Pop-Up Cinema.

International trailer (English subtitles)

Waiting for My Cup of Tea (一杯熱奶茶的等待, Phoebe Jan Fu-hua, 2021)

How long should you wait for love? Released during the prime romance season over the Christmas holidays and adapted from her own novel, Phoebe Jan Fu-hua’s Waiting for My Cup of Tea (一杯熱奶茶的等待, yī bēi rè nǎichá de děngdài) wonders if love is something you can defer or something to which you should submit as a collection of youngsters attempt to deal with various kinds of baggage from unresolved attachments to chronic illness, career worries, and the burden of responsibility for one’s own feelings and those of others. 

Xiao-hua (Ellen Wu), for example, is a shy young art student who seems to stand at a distance from her friends while intensely irritated by a classmate/neighbour who has a sideline as a model and seems to have everything passed to her on a plate simply for being pretty. It’s Yi-chun’s love life, however, which is beginning to annoy her partly because each of her suitors, which Xiao-hua suspects may extend to at least three, constantly rings her bell mistakenly believing Yi-Chun’s is broken. After being jokingly threatened by Yi-chun’s overbearing secret boyfriend, she later runs into another young man, Zi-jie (Simon Lien Chen-hsiang), ringing her bell in vain advising him to come back later fearful of a scene should he enter and find another guy in Yi-Chun’s flat, while she’s also touched by the sight of a third man, A-wen, sitting quietly on a bench opposite her window next to a bouquet of flowers assuming he too is probably waiting for Yi-Chun. 

Feeling sorry for A-wen sitting out in the cold waiting for a girlfriend who’s probably off with someone else, Xiao-hua buys him a hot milk tea from a vending machine which will become something of a motif throughout the film, but it’s Zi-jie she eventually falls for after a series of meet cutes during which he declares himself uninterested in committed romantic relationships and indifferent to Xiao-hua’s revelation that Yi-Chun may have as many as three guys on the go at the same time. Even so, he appears much more interested in her than he ever was in the model next-door, later ending his association with Yi-Chun rather abruptly much to her surprise in order to better romance Xiao-hua if mainly through an air of mystery. 

Though all of these people are very young, in the main college students about to graduate, they each have their own barriers to romance which they’re wary to overcome, Xiao-hua’s being her previous relationship with fellow student Shao-Ping who broke up with her to take care of a childhood friend living with mental illness while selfishly asking Xiao-hua to wait for him. At one point or another, everyone asks someone else to wait or else to give them time, Xiao-hua eventually that of asking Zi-jie on figuring out why he seems to be keeping a distance from her echoing the words of the radio host she’s fond of listening to that he should give her time and learn to let her in, while he later asks the same of her, and of course A-wen is always “waiting” in one sense or another. There is something a little uncomfortable in Shao-ping’s broodiness, opposed to Xiao-hua’s new relationship not only because he unfairly believes he still has a right to a say in her romantic future but uncomfortably suggesting that he sees an ironic degree of symmetry fearing that Xiao-hua will discover that Zi-jie is a “burden” she will become responsible for an idea tacitly affirmed in the otherwise positive conclusion in suggesting that Zi-jie must wait until he’s physically fit for love before committing himself fully. 

Meanwhile Xiao-hua’s romantic naivety is challenged by relationships between her friends witnessing a couple she thought were made for each other suddenly break up while each of them prepare for their lives after college, getting jobs and moving on often in different directions. She comes to realise that it’s unfinished business that holds people back and that in the end it’s better to have an uncomfortable conversation than leave a door open that would be better closed because there’s no sense waiting for a moment that’s already passed, but then paradoxically commits herself to waiting as an act of faith in a surer love. A gentle meditation on loneliness, grief, and the internalised barriers to romance Jan’s melancholy drama is less an advocation for moving on than for taking the time to find the right direction or at least one that is your particular cup of tea. 

Waiting for My Cup of Tea screens in Chicago April 10 as part of the 14th season of Asian Pop-Up Cinema.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Grit (鱷魚, Chen Ta-Pu, 2021)

A former gangster just released from prison finds his loyalties conflicted while working for a corrupt local official in Chen Ta-pu’s quirky romantic crime drama, Grit (鱷魚, èyú). According to a not particularly interested policeman, no one really cares about things like loyalty or morality anymore but like the best of noble gangster heroes, Yu Da-Wei (Kai Ko Chen-tung), otherwise known as Croc because of an incomplete tattoo of a dragon on his back, really does yet his nobility only makes him vulnerable to the machinations of those around him even as he does his best to stand up to thuggish intimidation masquerading as local government. 

At 17 years old, Yu was convicted of a gangland murder though it was rumoured at the time that petty gang boss Liu (Lee Kang-sheng) may have orchestrated the hit and set the young man up as a scapegoat promising him riches on release and that the grandfather who raised him would be looked after. Now a local councillor, Liu at least keeps his promise handing over twice the agreed amount of money along with a folder detailing where his grandfather’s ashes have been interred, but is otherwise unsupportive while later reluctantly agreeing to give Yu a job in his office during which he runs in to stubborn farmer Chen (Angelica Lee Sinje) whose father has recently passed away after a drunken accident. Chen has being trying to ring the council for weeks because someone’s cut off the water supply to her rice paddy but no one is willing to help her get it turned back on. Over earnest in his new occupation, Yu throws himself into action but is largely unaware of the vagaries of local politics and the likely reasons behind Miss Chen’s sudden inability to earn her living. 

Chen is quick to denigrate local government, complaining that they always turn up for weddings and funerals but when you really need them they’re nowhere to be found. That’s one reason she’s so surprised by Yu’s genuine attempts to help but conversely disappointed when nothing is really done. For his part, Yu is disappointed too because he really thought they were there to serve the people so he rolls up his sleeves and unblocks the irrigation channel himself but thereafter finds himself on the receiving end of the harassment Chen has been facing for months because she refuses to sell her land to developers. Liu is only motivated to help on discovering that the thugs at Chen’s farm may have been sent by a political rival but thereafter resorts to typical gangster tactics. Rather than try to help Chen, he blackmails his way onto the deal and then tells Yu to do whatever it takes to get her off her land so they can all profit as part of a dodgy real estate scam.  

An old school gangster, Yu is torn between loyalty to his old boss for whom he’s already been to prison and doing the right thing especially as he begins to bond with Chen as she continues to care for him after he is badly injured by thugs. He naively gives Liu opportunities to change, tries to convince Chen her land’s not worth dying for, and searches for another solution but eventually finds himself hamstrung by the contradictions of the world in which he lives where former gangsters are now in legitimate power and the state continues to behave like a low level street gang. It might be tempting to read a wider political message into Chen’s determination to hang on to her land which as her father was fond of saying is the only thing you can’t import as she alone refuses to give in to intimidation asking why it is they’re telling her to leave when there seems to be no good reason while Yu is eventually pushed towards resistance if only in her defence because of the mutual kindness that has arisen between them, two people otherwise alone in the world. 

“We all have our own worth” Liu snarls, but Yu is perhaps beginning to realise his, no longer the naive kid but turning the boss’ weapons back on him willing to sacrifice himself in order to save Chen even if he retains an unrealistic belief that Liu will honour his promises. Quirky in tone and somehow earnest, Chen Ta-pu’s charming crime drama is at once an innocent romance in which a lonely woman and a morally compromised man find love while battling institutional corruption, and a tale of personal redemption as the hero discovers “something more important” than loyalty to an oppressive social system and exploitative mentor.  

Grit screens in Chicago April 10 as part of the 14th season of Asian Pop-Up Cinema.

Original trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)

Treat or Trick (詭扯, Hsu Fu-Hsiang, 2021)

Diamonds, What it is it about them that makes everyone crazy? A bag of the elusive gemstones leads a series of corrupt cops towards a purgatorial hellscape deep in the mountains in Hsu Fu-Hsiang’s remake of the 2004 Korean film To Catch a Virgin Ghost, Treat or Trick? (詭扯, guǐ chě). The title could stand in for diamonds themselves which after all have little intrinsic value outside the illusionary desirability they evoke, but also hints at the “trickster” nature of its duplicitous hero. 

Corrupt cop Feng (Chen Bolin) admits that he didn’t join the police out of a fierce sense of justice, but because it was more convenient for his gangster lifestyle as he demonstrates in arresting a bunch of crooks only to stage a secondary robbery, getting his best friend Chiang (Yen Sheng-yu) to pose as a thief taking him hostage and running off with a bag of diamonds. Only, unbeknownst to Feng, Chiang has been picked as a fall guy for Boss Lin (Yu An-shun) to whom they were supposed to deliver the diamonds and has taken off with them. This is obviously a problem for Lin who takes cop Psycho hostage and charges Feng, his buddy Monk, and a guy from the gang Yang (Liu Kuan-ting), to track him down and bring the diamonds back. The trouble is that Chiang got into a car accident swerving to avoid the ghostly presence of a young woman and has wandered into a very weird village where everyone seems to be acting suspiciously. 

In many ways, you could see the village as a kind of purgatorial space inhabited by those trapped between two worlds towards which the gang of corrupt cops is beckoned to answer for their transgressions. Meanwhile, they’re also haunted by the figure of the mysterious woman whose presence is both help and hindrance hinting at dark goings on in this very remote area where visitors are a rarity. Having found out about the diamonds, the villagers are obviously keen to keep hold of them but then there are only so many to go round and it’s not as if you can cut a diamond in half, so the dilemma remains exactly who is going end up with the loot and how creating division on both sides. 

You couldn’t really say that either of these groups are the good guys, but it’s true enough that the villagers variously end up paying a high price for their greed usually caught out by their attempts to get one up on the cops, injured by backfiring weapons or caught in their own traps. Meanwhile, even Chiang falls victim to the essential weirdness of the village in succumbing to a freak accident which leads some to believe that he is dead though in a running gag he turns out to be more or less unkillable as if the eeriness of the place will not allow him to die no matter how many times he’s thrown off a hill, nailed in the head, crushed under falling objects, or set on fire. Yet Feng and his buddies remain largely untouched, outsiders in this strange world and completely by accident occupying some kind of murky moral high ground in trying to rescue their friend (along with diamonds which they need to get Psycho back and save their own lives by smoothing things over with Lin).

Hopping from the gangster movie to supernatural horror, martial arts, and mystery Hsu’s absurd morality farce throws in a series of running gags from “unlucky” Chiang’s strange ability to survive the unsurvivable to frequent allusions to the diamond sutra while possessing its own sense of karma as the greedy find themselves victims of their own scheming, but then perhaps not as the final twist might imply. Even so in this weird place, natures and destinies perhaps possess the ability to change, eccentric thug Yang getting far too into his role as a cop and finally deciding he’d like to be a “good guy” after all while guided by their brotherhood Feng and Monk too find themselves rediscovering a sense of justice in accidentally helping to solve a long dormant cold case. It’s all curiously circular, which is perhaps fitting for this farcical morality tale, but the jury seems to be out on whether even the brotherhood between Feng and his buddies not to mention their newfound sense of justice can survive the cursed allure of the stolen diamonds. 

Treat or Trick screens in Chicago April 9 as part of the 14th season of Asian Pop-Up Cinema.

Original trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)

Increasing Echo (修行, Chienn Hsiang, 2021)

Marriage is a curse from which there is no cure in Chienn Hsiang’s horror-inflected pandemic-era social drama Increasing Echo (修行, xiūxíng). Though the English-language title may hint at the spiralling quality of the shared resentment between a husband and wife no longer, if they ever had been, happy with each other, the Chinese reflects on the heroine’s spiritual journey as she searches for a release from her internalised imprisonment but finds it increasingly difficult to “become a little bird and fly away”. 

Reuniting with Exit’s Chen Shiang-chyi, Chienn opens the film with a surreal scene of a collection of people dressed in white stumbling around zombie-like in a park while some kind of guru instructs them to listen to the voice inside which will guide them towards their own tree. One of the blindfolded devotees, Mrs Yan (Chen Shiang-chyi) eventually embraces a trunk but subsequently faints after a cicada lands on her arm. Encounters with the natural world will prove increasingly ominous, yet we can infer from Mrs Yan’s distress that even if she has managed to find her own tree or at least a solid trunk to hang on to it has not given her the sense of release that she is seeking. With her son about to be married, she finds herself trapped in a loveless relationship with her equally depressed husband Fu-sheng (Chen Yi-Wen) who sips from a hip flask all day at the office, ignores his wife’s calls, and sits in a depressing convenience store cafe every evening to delay having to go home. 

As we later discover the major source of discord between the pair is Fu-sheng’s infidelity, Mrs Yan having discovered his affair with his secretary, Ke-yun (Huang Rou-Ming), some years previously after hiring a private detective. Never really healed, the wound is reopened when Mrs Yan receives a surprise phone call from Ke-yun’s sister who is stuck abroad due to COVID-19 and wants Fu-Sheng to visit his former mistress who has been living in a nursing home for some years having sustained some kind of brain injury that has left her largely unable to communicate. Though originally outraged, Mrs Yan pays a visit to Ke-yun herself and then goads Fu-Sheng into accompanying her though whatever it was she intended the event only forces Fu-sheng into revolt taking off with the dog in tow leaving her all alone in the family home. 

For his part, Fu-sheng quite clearly identifies with the family dog, Terry, surreptitiously feeding him junk food in the park after being admonished for giving him salty table scraps. Where Mrs Yan would prefer to keep him safely at home, Fu-Sheng keeps letting Terry escape to wander freely with the result that he ends up with a canine venereal disease. The vet advises Mrs Yan have him neutered, but this is obviously something Fu-sheng can’t countenance himself feeling fairly emasculated and trapped within his marriage. In this the film perhaps leans uncomfortably leans into patriarchal social codes in implying that Mrs Yan is at fault for limiting her husband’s sexual freedom with even the private detective she hires to find him telling her that it’s good to let him stay out a little and that he’ll come home once he’s got bored and had enough which sounds like statement more applicable to a randy dog like Terry or a child who’s wandered off in a huff than a cheating husband indifferent to his wife’s feelings and willing to risk his relationship with his son by not showing up for any of the wedding prep. 

The implication that Mrs Yan has brought this on herself is further deepened by her gradually fracturing sense of reality born of the array of pills we see her taking each morning and her investment in a cult-like new age religious practice which is later betrayed when she returns to her spiritual home and discovers someone’s put it up for rent. Her world is full of eeriness and ominous symbols from the pigeons which seem to follow her around, to the ghostly corridors at the hospital to which Ke-yun has been consigned with Mrs Yan perhaps also harbouring a sense of guilt though each of them is themselves imprisoned if in an obviously different sense. In this age of social distancing, Mr and Mrs Yan appear to have had a lengthy head start, their alienation from each other later leading towards an act of violence which provides no sense of release only further constraint. Broken by the anxious knelling of Buddhist prayer bells, Increasing Echo hints at the radiating legacies of emotional betrayal but paints the marriage of Mr and Mrs Yan as a kind of maddening curse for which there is no cure only perpetual misery amid the impossibility of separation. 

Increasing Echo screens in Chicago April 9 as part of the 14th season of Asian Pop-Up Cinema.

Original trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)

You Have To Kill Me (我是自願讓他殺了我, Chan Chun-Hao, 2021)

An earnest policeman discovers nothing is quite as he thought it to be in Chan Chun-Hao’s adaptation of the novel by Feng Shi, You Have to Kill Me (我是自願讓他殺了我, wǒ shì zìyuàn ràng tāshā le wǒ). Drawn into a dark web of intrigue which eventually points to abuse of power and a low regard for human life, he is forced into a realisation that even as a law enforcement officer he can never be certain of what is real and what is not while caught in the middle in a battle of between parents each trying desperately to protect their sons. 

About to propose to his live-in girlfriend Kai (Janel Tsai), Shing’s (Cheng Jen-shuo) world comes crashing down when he and his partner Ye-ze (Xue Shi Ling) are dispatched to the mountains and discover that she is the victim of the homicide they’ve been sent to investigate. Shing apprehends the apparent killer, Li Zi-jian (Snoopy Yu), running away from the scene, but the situation is complicated when it turns out that Zi-jian is the son of a local politician, Chairman Li (Yin Chao-Te), and while he admits to the killing claims that he did it at the instigation of Kai who was suffering from terminal cancer and wanted him to help her escape her suffering. A look at Kai’s medical records bears out his story, but on closer examination Shing realises the documents don’t add up. His suspicions are confirmed when Kai’s parents, whom he had seemingly never met, arrive and fail to identify the body claiming instead that it is another woman who had been harassing their daughter, Lin Jing. 

Shing is forced to accept that he might not have known the woman he wanted to marry and that their relationship was founded on a lie, uncertain how much of any of it might have been real. Meanwhile he runs into a series of bureaucratic roadblocks as the chairman continues to disrupt the investigation in order to protect his son, eventually having Shing taken off the case leading him to investigate all alone discovering even more uncomfortable truths that cause him to question his reality. Leaving aside the minor plot hole that it seems unusually easy to live under an assumed name in contemporary Taiwan even if you’re involved in activities which would generally require an extensive background check, Shing has good reason to be confused as he dives ever deeper into an amoral morass in which those with power are prepared to manipulate it for their own ends without much thought for the lives of others. “That’s how much a person is worth” the chairman baldly states signing a settlement agreement over something else his son may or may not have done, later claiming that it doesn’t matter if he caused someone’s death “accidentally” and he’d do it all again to save his son. 

Even so, the chairman may have limits in that his attempts to manipulate the system are bureaucratic in nature and seemingly unnecessary at least it seems as if there would be easier ways to achieve his aims without directly harming others even if they would risk lives indirectly. Meanwhile his accomplice is also seemingly involved in order to protect their family, willing to compromise themselves morally to protect their elderly relatives while believing nothing that bad would come of their actions. Then again, Shing finds himself on the receiving end of further recriminations accused of having failed to protect the woman he knew as Kai from herself leaving her with only a dark path to ensure that justice would be done and corruption exposed. 

While Zi-jian feared he was a burden to his father feeling himself unloved even as he went to such drastic lengths to protect him, Kai/Jing was also afraid to fully trust Shing fearing she’d one day disappoint him unable to move on from her traumatic past without putting it to rest. Taking aim firmly at the societal corruption that allows the rich and powerful to misuse their position for their own gain while ordinary people suffer Chan’s noirish drama situates itself in a murky world of constant uncertainty in which even an earnest policeman can be largely oblivious of the lives of those around him while the purest of motivations can lead to only darkness and misery.  

You Have To Kill Me streams in the US April 4 – 10 as part of the 14th season of Asian Pop-Up Cinema.

Original trailer (English subtitles)