Nearly twenty years ago, I was spellbound by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It was my first exposure to foreign film steeped in Asian culture and wondrous mystery.
People were flying through trees and a woman was teaching ninjas a thing or two about martial arts in what I later learned was Ang Lee’s magnum opus as a Taiwanese producer/director. (Photo from movie below and credit to Kutu Film)
In this fantasy-like story of pure artistry, Lee brought together movie studios from four different regions (mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the U.S.) I recently discovered this same beauty, poetry, and depth of character in the curated films of Chicago’s only Pan-Asian film organization.
Now in its sixth season, the Asian Pop-Up Cinema (APUC) is a boutique film festival promoting a cross-section of film genres – from comedy, drama, romance and documentary-style films – reminiscent of the superb quality manifest in Lee’s Crouching Tiger.
Using a diversity of impassioned voices, perspectives and stories, the festival’s spring collection of sixteen films thrills audiences with glimpses into life on the other side of the world. Together, this broad range of films provides audiences with an opportunity to experience diverse cultures, languages, traditions, aspirations, and challenges.
This year’s film selections are particularly diverse and, according to the APUC website include a “transgender knitter, a wheelchair-bound sex obsessive addict, a 10-year-old’s pursuit for a real guitar, and an autistic son giving hope to his family”. What’s also interesting about the festival is the unusual approach to screening the films. Six of the sixteen are free to the local community and co-presented with other cultural partners using targeted invitations to film professionals, educators and students.
The creation of APUC illustrates a few interesting trends in Chicago and the appetite for international film.
Chicago’s Chinese population is growing and the overall population of Asians living in Chicago has increased by 30% over the last few years, according to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune.
The demand for international film has naturally increased in Chicago as evidenced by other festival groups like the Chicago Film Festival. They have adapted their programming to meet this demand and offered free weekly international film screenings at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2017.
Momentum and outreach for the APUC film festival has increased each year, and a cross-section of people involved in these film productions – from acclaimed actors, directors, producers, and film critics have started to attend the festival screenings. This adds Hollywood-style gravitas to the program, not to mention the host of civic leaders, government representatives and festival sponsors that also attend and advance the cultural exchange.
This year, the grand finale for the festival is a screening of the film, Tomorrow is Another Day. On May 16th, audiences can see director Chan Tai-Lee’s film at Chicago’s AMC River East theater and watch the heartfelt story of a conflicted mother and her 20-year-old autistic son.
Both the leading actor and the director of the film will be in attendance, which is a first for the festival. At the 37th Hong Kong Film Awards in 2018, Actress Teresa Mo and leading man Ling Man-Lung (both pictured separately, below) won the Best Actress Award and Best New Performer Award, respectively, so Chicagoans are particularly fortunate.
The hype surrounding the U.S. Premier and critical acclaim of this Hong Kong film is compelling to WomanScape for several reasons. The emotional story of a woman forced to deal with motherhood, trauma, shame, societal repression and impossible choices compels viewers to reconsider their own personal situation in life, not to mention the lives of other women all over the world.
The plight of these movie characters also teaches us empathy, helping us better understand underlying cultural traditions and expectations. How easy it is to make judgements about others when you don’t appreciate the legacy of culture and socially-imposed rules? But when individuals and society are versed in the complexities and differences between Eastern and Western cultures, words like compassion and tolerance have room to grow.
Perhaps our government leaders and policy makers would do well to escape to the movies every now and then, particularly international films. They might just be affected by Tomorrow is Another Day in the same way that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon affected me all those years ago. Who knows how this and a shared bucket of popcorn could affect our policy advisors and diplomats as they work to improve relations between the East and West?
To learn more about this exciting series and film schedule, visit: www.asianpopupcinema.org