LAAPFF Interview: Director Justin Chon on ‘Ms. Purple’
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. –IMDb
Where did the general idea for the film come from?
I feel like the first few films I wanted to make, I wanted for them to be very personal. My second film, Gook, was about the LA riots. We had a store that got looted during the riots so that was very personal. I always wanted to explore a sibling relationship, specifically a brother and sister because I think that’s a different dynamic than brother-brother or sister-sister because you’re not of the same gender. The communication a lot of the times is off, and you can’t relate to each other because usually you’re not in the same phase.
I might be wrong, but for me and my sister we’re just completely different people. So I wanted to explore that relationship. There’s a dying parent in the film–both my parents are thankfully alive, but I felt like specifically in the Asian community we deal with so much filial piety and being responsible to our parents. What happens when one person doesn’t care at all and one person takes it too far? That’s the basis for the film. So it’s about two estranged siblings who get reconnected due to their father.
What was the process of getting the film from the screenplay to the screen?
I had the idea, and I’ve been wanting to make it for a long time. Finally, I decided I didn’t want to wait around for it to happen. These processes tend to be kind of long sometimes. I just decided to make it, since its been marinating for a long time. I wrote the first draft and I got my friend Christopher Dinh to co-write it. While we were co-writing, my producing partner Alex Chi went and got the money. We just went out like gangbusters and started getting all ready and going really quickly. We then shot and edited it for Sundance.
In the Kickstarter campaign for the film, you mentioned that you were drawn in to the story’s “female point of view.” What have you learned about the female perspective during the making of this film and the whole process of writing the character?
I really learned that I need to be much more sensitive. I learned that I need to not make that many assumptions. I learned that life is not fair, and in writing it I was trying to make it fair–like if something bad happens to [Kasie], something good needs to happen to her. But I felt like that was a disservice to the story and to the character because that doesn’t accurately portray what a woman’s experience is.
I think part of being a woman is the burden that they carry that comes along with that gender. Leaning into that was uncomfortable, and I think it was uncomfortable for everybody–even for the actress because the role is a very hard role and the things that she goes through is hard. I also expected a lot from her and pushed her. So I learned a lot about what some of us actually feel like… but I’ll never know how it is for certain.
What do you want people to take away from watching Ms. Purple?
That you’re not alone. The main character walks the road alone. She really lets men dictate her life choices.
That there is also community. It might not be the community that you thought it was. It might not even necessarily be Asian. Sometimes you’ve got to be open–there are people out there who can support you and you are not alone. I think in this film [Kasie] feels alone most of the time but she’s really not… she has to let people in.
And to not waste any moments with your family–that’s the biggest thing.
This brief interview was conducted by Li-Wei Chu during Press Day at the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Special thanks to Derrek Chow for providing the featured image.