Others: Ms. Purple
My friend, an intellectual: Ms. Violet Beauregarde
In an effort to watch more films about Asian American stories, I attended the Reel Asian Film Festival this month. The film I was most excited to see was Ms Purple, directed by Justin Chon. Yes, the guy who was briefly in Twilight, is now a director. This is Chon’s sophomore feature film after the success of his first film, Gook, premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2017.
The film stars Tiffany Chu as the protagonist, Kasie, as she is stuck on LA’s Koreatown working as a karaoke hostess to be the companion of drunken men. Teddy Lee plays her younger brother, Carey, who was kicked out of the house at a very young age by their father. James Kang plays as the sibling’s terminally ill father. Other characters include Jake Choi as Johnny, Octavio Pizano as Octavio, and Alma Martinez as Juanita.
This drama film follows Kasie as she struggles to make ends meet to take care of her dying father after his hospice nurse quits. She reconnects with her estranged brother to hopefully get him to take care of their father while she works and to get him to mend the relationship between them. While Kasie works, she frequently hangs out with a customer, Johnny, who treats her as an escort, but Kasie sees it more as a relationship. There is another man who shows genuine interest in her, Octavio, but she struggles with being someone that makes her happy, versus someone who can financially support her. With both of the siblings being put in tough situations, they are forced into self-reflection of their life as their single father whose raised them is dying soon.
Anything that deals with parents dying and women getting treated like trash, I will cry, no matter what. However, the film was just okay for me, as eliciting an emotional response is not enough for me to love this film. The best part of the movie for me was the relationship between Kasie and Carey. The actors had chemistry, and it was believable that these two were siblings. There would be moments where everything seems to be falling apart, but then they relive funny things from their childhood and get some ice cream. There’s an ease to how they interact as if the actors grew up together. The relationship between Kasie and Carey was the heart and soul of the film, it kept me engaged in the movie. Even the individual relationships between the siblings and their father were engaging.
However, I felt like there should have been more attention placed on the relationships in the story. There were times where the scenes felt completely unnecessary and did not add to the story between the links of the family. A times it felt sloppy and forcing the story to be as raw as Chon’s debut film, Gook. Some of the actions of the characters seemed out of the blue, just to put on a very emotional scene to fit the next part of the script. There was the choice to add a minor flashback scene of why their mother left them, but it didn’t add much to the meat of the story.
Another thing that felt totally unnecessary was the addition of Octavio. Personally, for me, he did not help in any way to help or support Kasie in any significant way. He’s basically another love interest option which isn’t necessary when the sibling relationship carries the entire film.
While this film is a step down from Justin Chon’s previous film, he is still a talented writer and director who I am excited to see what he comes up with next. The stories he tells are essential, not all will be winners, but they need to be told.