A young woman who works as a karaoke hostess in Koreatown reconnects with her estranged brother in the final days of their father’s life.
In what will be many flashbacks, Ms. Purple begins with a father dressing his children in their finest attire. The man nervously assures his son and daughter that their mother will see them. We cut to Kasie (Tiffany Chu) ambling up the street in similar Korean clothing. The sky purple with a pre-dawn hue, she is worn out. Almost beaten completely. The clothes are the same, but the circumstances are vastly different now that she is older. Ms. Purple is an occasionally brilliant drama that follows a young woman through the trials of adulthood, the evolving connections with family, and what it means to claim residence in a place you that you never felt a connection.
“Her father, once the anchor of a struggling family is now in bed, comatose and dependent on a feeding tube…”
Kasie is, for lack of a better term, a hostess at a karaoke bar. Her father, once the anchor of a struggling family is now in bed, comatose and dependent on a feeding tube. They haven’t heard from her brother Carey (Teddy Lee) in years. She has been able to tread water with the help of Juanita (Alma Martinez), a nurse that has been making regular visits and caring for dad and that abruptly comes to an end leaving Kasie with no other option but to reach out to her estranged brother. He has been living on the streets but reluctantly decided to return home to help.
Of course, this doesn’t exactly solve every problem as Johnny has his own issues to unpack. Struggling with the fact that his father is essentially gone, he decides he will try everything he can to include him in life again, pretty much wheeling him everywhere around town in his bed. Things begin to turn around too for Kasie. She begins to have a few romantic options popping up on the horizon. Still, there is the lingering feeling that things aren’t settled. The script by Justin Chon and Chris Dinh deftly skips from past to present, tragic and sweetly comical visceral and serene with an admirable skill to keep us hoping for the best and consistently off guard.
“…these two actors have a palpable chemistry that pulls us in and disarms.”
At the center of the film is the remarkable performances from Chu and Lee. As the pair of estranged siblings, these two actors have a palpable chemistry that pulls us in and disarms. As the two struggle to navigate their situation we believe that these two are family. Their work is supported by a substantially talented ensemble that portrays moments of reality that feel genuine.
Director Justin Chon makes some interesting choices that work for the most part. The use of score to mix cultural norms is one that gives Ms. Purple a decidedly L.A. vibe. Whereas his visual motifs and metaphors come off as noticeable and heavy-handed. While good the script would have benefited from, say, just one more pass. All of the elements are there; they just need a little more balance.
Ms. Purple was an honest love note to the flawed amalgamation of dreams and nightmares that Angelenos call home. It is also another promising piece from Chon that has us on notice.
Ms. Purple screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
7 out of 10 stars