Justin Chon's new film delves into the thorny dynamics of a Korean-American family. Info
Like his earlier features, director Justin Chon's Ms. Purple is a perceptive look at Asian identity in America. Where Gook (2017) centered around two Korean brothers' response to the LA riots in 1992, Ms. Purple is a more contemporary examination of familial responsibility and togetherness. Aesthetically, it notably seems to take influence from the starkness of the Seimetz and Kerrigan TV adaptation of The Girlfriend Experience (2016), and Ante Cheng's sporadic use of wide, high-frame-rate cinematography no doubt takes a cue from legendary Wong Kar-Wai collaborator Christopher Doyle. Yet, underneath the hazy neon artifice of its California karaoke clubs and dusty sunglow of surf and palm trees, the narrative intriguingly explores a tangled sibling relationship.
In less than 90 minutes, Chon and co-writer Chris Dinh impressively capture the push-pull of the youth and adulthood of 23-year-old Kasie (Tiffany Chu), a piano performance major who chose to drop out of college to care for her bedridden, terminally ill father. The harsh financial reality of this situation has forced her to take undesirable night work as a hostess and high-end escort, while she constantly ruminates on the everyday uncertainty of her father's condition. After another caregiver suddenly departs, Kasie calls her wandering brother Carey (Teddy Lee) to lend his support. Carey's presence in the scenario lends a surprisingly subtle element of zaniness to the film's otherwise heavy dynamics, complemented by Roger Suen's score, which oscillates between resonant, melancholic chamber music and blithe, pillowy island folk guitar.
While Ms. Purple can occasionally be too demonstrative in its thematic revelations, the manner in which Chon and Dinh thread the past into the present is quite moving from the opening frames of a father's love for his daughter. As the film progresses, these reflections of the past fade from the idyllic distortions of memory, suggesting that there may never have been a "normal" for Kasie and Carey in the animosity that persisted between their parents. Kasie continues to strive towards the promise of certain unity and preservation of cultural identity, as well as finally finding acceptance and her true place in the city. Following this screening as part of UW-Cinematheque an the UW-Madison Asian American Studies Program's annual Asian-American Media Spotlight, Dinh will appear in person for a Q&A. —Grant Phipps