When moviegoers in the United States hear the phrase “Asian films,” their minds almost immediately focus on martial arts spectacles and over-the-top action epics that helped to make stars out of people like Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Jet Li. Of course, Asian movies cover a much wider array of genres and styles than that and it has been the mission of Sophia’s Choice, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization founded by Hong Kong transplant Sophia Wong Boccio, to generate awareness of contemporary Asian cinematic culture to local audiences who might otherwise never get a chance to experience it firsthand for themselves. The organization's primary outlet for this initiative is Asian Pop-Up Cinema, a semi-annual film festival of films hailing from the entire Asian continent that has been programmed in the hopes of exposing Chicago audiences to a variety of titles that they might not have otherwise had the opportunity to see on the big screen. Now in its sixth season, the latest Asian Pop-Up Cinema, which will run March 13 - May 16, will be presenting nine new films, covering U.S., Midwest and Chicago premieres, at the AMC River East 21 cinemas at screenings that will in many cases be accompanied by post-film discussions with a number of special guests.
Selected by an advisory board of critics and members of the Asian film industry, the titles on display once again covering a broad spectrum of styles and subject. On March 13, the festival officially kicks off with the U.S. premiere of the South Korean film “Colors of Wind” [pictured above], a romantic drama from director Kwak Jae-yong in which a man named Ryo (Yuki Furukawa) is told by dying girlfriend Yuri that she has an exact lookalike living in Hokkaido. After discovering that he has a doppelgänger there as well—a magician who dies while performing a trick a year earlier—Ryo sets off to investigate and comes across Yuri’s lookalike, who not only knew the magician but is convinced that Ryo is actually him, leaving Ryo to ponder whether to stay with her and embrace the new identity or leave in order to remain as himself. Furukawa, who can also be currently seen on the Netflix series “Erased,” is scheduled to appear at this screening.
The next three films in the festival hail from Taiwan. On March 28, director Tseng Ying-tin and actor Fu Meng-po will be on hand to present “The Last Verse,” a sprawling romantic drama in which the romantic travails of a budding young poet and the seeming love of his life mirror the economic and cultural shakeups that have occurred in the country from 2000 to the present. In the dark comedy “The Great Buddha,” which screens on April 4, a bored security guard at a factory that makes giant Buddha statues decides to pass the time one night by stealing the memory card from his boss’s dash cam and watching the footage with his friend—inevitably, they wind up seeing something that they shouldn’t have and things quickly turn ugly. That film is followed on April 5 by the Midwest premiere of “A Fish Out of Water,” a domestic drama by Lai Kuo-an in which the already existing tensions lurking within a dysfunctional family are exacerbated when their kindergarten-age child asks his now-separating parents to help him find his parents from a previous life.
Japanese filmmaker Jumpei Matsumoto will be on hand April 11 to present “Perfect Revolution,” a drama about the unexpected and occasionally discomfiting relationship that develops between a wheelchair-bound disabled rights activist who focuses on the subject of sexual behavior in the disabled community and the oddball woman who bursts in on one of his lectures to badger him about being more interested in sex than love and then declares her own love for him. On April 18, Indian director Rima Das is scheduled to be on hand for the Chicago premiere of “Village Rockstars,” her acclaimed film about a spunky 10-year-old girl growing up in a small village who dreams of one day getting her hands on a guitar and forming her own rock band.
May 2 will feature a screening of “Dear Etranger,” a Japanese drama from Yukiko Mishima, based on the novel by Kiyoshi Shigematsu, about a man facing in the midst of personal turmoil—his ex-wife is trying to prevent him from seeing their daughter, his second wife is about to have a baby, news which thrills his younger stepdaughter but inspires rebellion in the older one, and he has unexpectedly lost his good-paying office job and is forced to make ends meets working in a warehouse. “Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds,” screening on May 9, is a South Korean fantasy set in the afterlife following a recently deceased firefighter as he, with the aid of a trio of guardian spirits, tries to pass 7 trials over the course of 49 days in order to be deemed an innocent and therefore qualify for reincarnation. The festival concludes on May 16 with the U.S. premiere of “Tomorrow is Another Day,” a Hong Kong melodrama from writer/director Chan Tai-Lee about a woman who is forced to care for her autistic adult son on her own when her husband, no longer able to take it, leaves them in order to take up with the younger woman with whom he has been having an affair. Both Chan Tai-Lee and co-star Ling Man-Lung, who plays the son, will be present for the screening with the latter also receiving the festival’s Bright Star award for up-and-coming talents.
In addition to the films listed about, the festival will also be holding a number of free screenings (though an RSVP to the festival’s website is required) of other films throughout the duration at a number of local venues. On April 7, there will be screenings of three Canadian-produced films featuring Chinese-related subject matter: “The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam” is a 2014 documentary about a man who escaped poverty to become an internationally famous acrobat and magician who nevertheless refused to appear in films because of how they depicted Chinese people at the time; “China Heaven” follows one-time boxing star Qi Mo-xiang as he travels the rural areas of the country in the hopes of finding young fighting talents with the potential to become China’s next big Olympic stars; the narrative feature “Old Stone” [pictured above] tells the dark story of a taxi driver who drives an injured motorcyclist to the hospital following an accident and enters a bureaucratic nightmare when it is determined that he is responsible for paying the stranger’s bills.
Screening at the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago on April 14, the drama “A Village Doctor’s Choice” is about a man sent to a remote Tibetan village decades earlier to serve as the doctor to the locals and who finds himself now questioning his life choices when his now-adult son announces his plan to follow in his father’s footsteps. Shot over the course of a year, Zhang Yang’s 2016 documentary “Paths of the Soul” (screening May 6 at the Midwest Buddhist Temple) follows a group of 11 people as they set off on foot on a 2000-kilometer pilgrimage to the sacred King’s Mountain in Lhasa. And since no international film festival worth its salt can possibly exist without at least one film featuring the legendary and legendarily prolific Isabelle Huppert on the program, there will be a screening on March 22 at the Alliance Francaise of “Claire’s Camera” [pictured above], a whimsical effort from writer/director Hong Sang-soo. Huppert plays a schoolteacher who makes her first visit to Cannes and, with the aid of a camera that may indeed be magical, she ends up teaming with a South Korean film sales assistant (Kim Minhee) to discover the reason why the latter was laid off from her job following a one-night stand with a powerful film director.
For further information of the Asian Pop-Up Cinema program, including films, showtimes, tickets and how to R.S.V.P. for the free screenings, go to the festival website by clicking here.