Yonh-ki Jeong’s Couples

Amidst the barrage of louder, more fanciful and genre-heavy selections in this year's New York Asian Film Festival, the stories presented in two films, Couples and Honey Pupu, manage to resonate with real life issues. In their own unique way, both examine the difficulties of finding emotional connection in the modern world.

Yonh-ki Jeong’s Couples, a South Korean remake of a Kenji Uchida's 2005 film A Stranger of Mine that was a past NYAFF hit, begins straightforwardly enough. Yoo-Suk, a likable teashop owner, has enlisted the help of his amateur private eye friend to find his girlfriend Na-Ri, who disappeared just as we was going to propose to her, leaving only a text message saying she’d send someone to collect her belongings. An unexpected series of events leads to Yoo-Suk becoming close with adorable traffic cop Ae-yeon.

Just as you think you have a handle on the traditional rom-com direction that Couples is going, the film reveals an inventive time and perspective-shifting structure. As characters that we thought were peripheral or simply extraneous are explored, the romantic endeavors of roughly half a dozen couples prove to be closely intertwined and interconnected through twists of fate, with an endless amount of surprises and role reversals. While all that may sound heady, the film remains delightfully breezy throughout.

Despite its playful tone, Couples takes on some extremely current concerns, most notably the calamitous economic climate of the last few years. Having taken out a loan to buy a house to impress Na-Ri, Yoo-Suk is left in the red and unable to resell in the shaky market. Na-Ri’s gold-digging ways lead her away from Yoo-Suk and to a sensitive gangster named Byung-Chan, from whom she attempts to swindle cash. In fact, all of the characters, at one point or another, operate out of a desire for money. Underneath its fun and romantic veneer, Couples explores the desperate measures people will take for financial security in such unsure times.

Chen Hung-I’s Honey Pupu

Honey Pupu is much more explicit in its exploration of modern times, tackling love in the digital age. Like Couples, this Taiwanese movie begins with a search for a missing partner—in this case it's a woman named Vicky looking for her boyfriend Dog, who has mysteriously disappeared. This leads her to Missing.com, an online web community populated by an eclectic group of misfits who believe in a parallel world that Dog may have crossed over to.

Honey Pupu unfolds in a surreal and impressionistic manner. In many ways the flow and tone of the film mimics the experience of being on the Internet—the real-life meetings between the members of Missing.com have a robotic and detached quality akin to their online chatroom exchanges, and the film's scenes and moods have a loose and disjunctive nature redolent of surfing the web. The characters in Honey Pupu are navigating a world that is overrun with virtual abstraction, leaving them ill-equipped when it comes to dealing with reality.

A welcome respite from the out-and-out lunacy of much of this year's New York Asian Film Festival lineup, these two films manage to be as beguiling as they are thought-provoking; upon leaving the theater, you may be left contemplating the nature of your own relationships. Couples screens Tuesday, July 3 and Wednesday, July 4. Honey Pupu screens Thursday, July 5 and Sunday, July 8. Don't forget to save when you buy tickets to three or more films with our NYAFF Package!