Published Jan 28, 2019Thanks to the breakthrough success of his sophomore feature Gook in 2017, Justin Chon is proving to be a go-to voice for Asian-American storytelling. With Ms. Purple, he certainly offers another interesting narrative, though one can't help but see some missed potential.
The film centres on Kasie (Tiffany Chu), a young woman trying make ends meet in Los Angeles while also tending to her bed-ridden, comatose father (James Kang). She does so by working as a "doumi" — a paid party companion in one of Koreatown's seedy karaoke bars. Though on paper she's only there to hang out and have a flirty laugh, she's constantly fending off unwanted (and unmonitored) advances from her handsy clientele.
As more of her father's in-home caretakers quit, she eventually reaches out to her estranged brother Carey (Teddy Lee). This reignites a strong childhood bond, and the two eventually patch up their painful relationship while reminiscing about their childhood and their estranged mother.
Kasie eventually catches the eye of a particularly entitled wealthy client, who begins paying her to be his girlfriend. They regularly have sex at his mansion, he buys her fancy clothes and brings her to fancy events as his plus-one, but never shows any care about her ailing father. Eventually, their relationship meets a catastrophic end.
Ms. Purple is content as a low-key family study, offering plenty of food for thought between its moments of drama. That said, there are times where its stylistic choices are distracting. There are plenty of audacious shots, including plenty of step printing slow motion, that suggest the film is really trying to show us something.
What's really problematic, however, is the soundtrack. The film is anchored by a melodramatic string score, which adds plenty of pathos to Kasie's story, but the scenes in between fall apart with dalliances into jazz and ambient music. It'd be one thing if it was simply unfocused, but a quirky scene where Carey wheels his comatose father around Koreatown is soundtracked by the Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" — a laughably on-the-nose decision.
These problems don't fully detract from the fact that Chon is quickly proving himself to be a sturdy and reliable filmmaker. Considering the fact that Ms. Purple arrives just two years after Gook won a Sundance audience award, it's safe to say we'll be hearing more from him soon.