There have been significant strides for Black and Female filmmakers; yet until Crazy Rich Asians dominated the box office, the progress for Asian-American directors has appeared to have lagged. Sundance saw a plethora of Asian perspectives, one being Justin Chon’s follow-up to Gook, Ms. Purple. Chon’s newest film is a tribute to familial responsibility, told from a female perspective.
Ms. Purple follows Kasie (Tiffany Chu) — a L.A. Koreatown karaoke bar hostess struggling to make ends meet while she cares for her comatose cancer-stricken father. Chon’s film marks a divide between Western and Eastern families and traditions. Western families often opt for hospice care rather than assuming the responsibility of home-based welfare. Defiant to Western culture, most ethnic traditions instruct their children to assume the mantle of caring for their elderly parents. It’s an unspoken contract. And though Kasie’s life would be significantly easier without the burden of her father, anything less: especially hospice — would be a betrayal of him.
Chon’s film also finds a sibling subplot involving Kasie and her brother Carey (Teddy Lee). Her brother skipped out on the family long ago, having a tempestuous relationship with his father. He returns to help his sister with their father’s care. Chu and Lee both display a spontaneous familial affection for one another. Their best moments often happen with little to no dialogue, as they prank each other or eat ice cream. Their tacit relationship offers a dynamic examination of the Asian-American family unit; which in many ways, should be relatable to anyone who watches Ms. Purple.
Likewise, Chon discovers the deep emotional fissures between familial responsibility and individual devastation through Roger Suen‘s poignant string-laden score and Ante Cheng‘s cinematography, combining in Wong Kar Wai fashion.
The artistry of Ms. Purple, its editing and sudden uses of Suen’s gripping music: especially during the first half hour — sometimes distracts us from the story. The overall effect is disjointed rather than impressionistic.
Chu shoulders the first half hour, finding the emotional center in what’s initially a meandering film. Her character’s struggle, not just to care for her father, but to operate in an industry where she’s a sex object, is a remarkable combination of stoicism and a wellspring of emotion. Ms. Purple‘s culmination, a cathartic uprising from the exploited women of this world, defines Chon’s film as an intimate, beautiful, and uniquely rendered Asian-American story.