Filmmakers in attendance.
Moving north from South Central to Koreatown, director/actor Justin Chon explores family trauma through an estranged Korean American sister and brother’s attempt to care for their invalid father. MS. PURPLE continues his exploration of LA’s neighborhoods through the cultural impact made by their various immigrant populations we last saw in his award-winning feature, GOOK.
Kasie (Tiffany Chu) works as a doumi (hostess) at a local karaoke bar. Each night, she deals with the misogyny and violence of her clients and then goes home to take care of her terminally ill father. It’s a fairly stifling cycle that is finally interrupted when she gets ahold of her troubled and deadbeat brother, Carey (Teddy Lee), to help out at home. As a desperate stride towards financial stability, Kasie enters into a relationship with an older Korean man, Tony, acting as his ‘girlfriend’ and being available as his date for fancy events. The toxicity of each relationship and how each one evolves, some good and some bad, becomes the central focus of the film.
MS. PURPLE is an incredibly effective study of the messiness of family and how actions can ripple across generations. In a series of flashbacks, we see how a demanding father and an absent mother lay the groundwork for Kasie and Carey’s relationship to each other and the world around them. As co-writers, Justin Chon and Chris Dinh have an innate sense of who these characters are, giving them an arc that allows them to be confused and imperfect. As director, Chon doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable moments and shoots each scene to give the actors room to play with the dimensions of their characters. The harsh neon lighting of the karaoke bars and the glaring sunlight of the outdoors force Chu and Lee, respectively, to find the softer edges of their characters. It’s a beautiful contrast to how each would like to be perceived. Tiffany Chu is especially magnetic and gives a vulnerable and candid performance. Chu doesn’t play all of Kasie’s flaws as imperfect, but as someone who has to make difficult choices on behalf of those she loves.
The title refers to the color of the hanbok (a type of traditional Korean dress) Kasie wore as a little girl. Unknowingly, Tony buys her the same one. Wearing it as an adult brings up emotions of the past and present. The abandonment of her mother and the feeling she is ‘owned,’ not just by Tony, but by her circumstances. Throughout the film, Kasie is forced to confront the choices of her life and why she’s made them. MS. PURPLE doesn’t lay out the answers in a clean and comforting way. But it doesn’t need to. Family is messy, the choices you make are messy, and the beauty of the film is the exploration of finding the strength within to create your own solutions. –Jeremy Gaudette
Director, Writer, Producer: Justin Chon
Producer: Alex Chi, Alan Pao
Co-Writer: Chris Dinh
Director of Photography: Ante Cheng
Production Designer: Bo Koung Shin
Costume Designer: Eunice Jera Lee
Editor: Reynolds Barney
Composer: Roger Suen