Asian Pop-Up Cinema

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By Claire Pak

Although the American film industry generates the most box office revenue in the world, it is actually only the third largest film industry by number of film productions. First is India, probably best known for Bollywood but also the producer of an array of film industries that are not in Hindi/Urdu such as Tamil and Telugu cinema. Other Asian industries also occupy high spots in that list, with China and Japan just trailing after the US and South Korea following up in eighth.

It’s clear there are thriving film industries outside of North American cinema, industries where often only a tenth of what is produced makes it stateside. Fortunately, access to such films are becoming increasingly easy: AMC has a separate section in “international films” for Indian movies, while Netflix and Amazon Prime have continued to add Asian films into their streaming catalogue.

Asian Pop-Up Cinema provides an opportunity to be introduced to the vibrant Asian film culture in Chicago. It’s a semi-annual film festival dedicated to screening films from Asian directors, or films about Asia in general. Since its inception in 2015, they’ve had five seasons, with the screened films running the gamut from documentaries (Little Gem) to comedy (This Is Not What I Expected) to zombie-apocalypse (Train to Busan) to social commentary films like Okja and the high school heist film Bad Genius. During each season, films are shown every week or every other week, usually at AMC River East 21 in downtown Chicago, only a ten minute walk from the intercampus bus stop.

Asian Pop-Up Cinema was founded by Sophia’s Choice, a Chicago-based nonprofit cultural organization that aims to foster appreciation for Asian culture. They connect the Asian film industry with the Chicago film culture by offering showings of Asian films to a Chicago audience. Sophia’s Choice itself was founded by film and culture curator Sophia Wong Boccio, whose previous experience curating two Chinese and Hong Kong film festivals and serving as the Managing Director of the Chicago International Film Festival informs the diverse selection of films present in the Asian Pop-Up Cinema lineup.

The sixth season of Asian Pop-Up Cinema began with the Midwest premiere of the Japanese film Close-Knit, a gentle drama about a young girl, recently abandoned by her mother, who moves in with her uncle and his partner, a trans woman. Since then, the festival has shown at least one film every week or every other week. The list of films shown so far include the 2003 documentary The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, directed by “Long Tack Sam”’s granddaughter Ann Marie Fleming, the 2017 Assamese-language film Village Rockstar, a coming-of-age drama about a young girl in the remote village from India who wants to be a rockstar, and The Great Buddha+, a black comedy about a security guard for a Buddha statue who likes porn magazines and television. Upcoming films includes the Korean fantasy-melodrama Along with the Gods and the narrative documentary Paths of the Soul, which follows Tibetan villagers on a two-thousand kilometer pilgrimage to Lhasa. Directors and actors sometimes make appearances at the showing of their films, providing a great chance to talk to them about their work: for instance, Ann Marie Fleming and Rima Das -- the director Village Rockstar -- have come to screenings to talk about their films, as well as directors/writers Junpei Matsumoto, Tseng Ying-ting and Chan Tai-lee. Other guests include Mark Schilling from the New York Times and Shelly Kraicer, programmer of East Asian films for the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Chances are that there’s a film in Asian Pop-Up Cinema’s program that could interest even the most picky film fan. Whether you enjoy hearing about the creative process of making a film and want to listen to some passionate directors discuss their work, or you just like watching movies, the series provides opportunities to be both educated and entertained.

There are so many foreign films that are often left out of American cultural conversation (after all, only five “foreign-language” films are nominated for the Academy Awards each year). Since student tickets are  $8 or, in some cases, completely free, the festival is an accessible immersion into the world of Asian cinema, one which is accessible to all ages and levels of interest. It provides both film lovers and casual viewers the perfect chance to escape the bubble of Western culture and explore the undervalued brilliance of Asian cinema.


Eish Sumra