LAAPFF Review: ‘Ms. Purple’ (2019), dir. Justin Chon
Justin Chon‘s third feature film Ms. Purple is a film that gives an unflinchingly real portrayal of a young woman stuck within familial turmoil. Tiffany Chu gives a stunning performance in her breakthrough role as Kasie, a Korean American woman who is forced to return home when her father’s terminal illness worsens. Further complicating the situation is her brother, the deadbeat Carey (Teddy Lee), who she calls upon to help. As Kasie starts to feel the pressure of her family on her shoulders—from the guilt of being unable to care for her father and her annoyance at her brother’s mischievous actions—she starts to turn to more drastic and desperate measures to keep her deteriorating family together.
One of the biggest themes that director Chon wanted to focus on was the female perspective, and he achieves that without the use of any trite cliches. Kasie is a complex, haunted character that bears the weight of the world on her shoulders, and Chu’s portrayal of the character makes it hard to watch the film at times. When Chu is forced to take verbal abuse and is continually harassed at her job in the karaoke bar, the discomfort is tangible. It’s agonizing watching her being treated as a mere a plaything by her customers, but it’s the harsh reality that she (and many others) faces every day. Even though her patrons buy her gifts (one gifts her a hanbok), they’re ultimately empty motions used to validate their abuse of the bargirls. Chon doesn’t hold back on these kinds of small gestures—uncomfortable and ugly as they are.
Ms. Purple, which also dissects the nature of divorce and its lasting impact on people, tells it in such a naturalistic way that it never feels forced. Smart flashbacks are interweaved throughout the main storyline, providing context as to how things got to the way that they are. These inserts slide in and out with ease, never compromising the structural storytelling of the film. However, major accolades should be given to the cinematographer Ante Cheng, who perfectly captures the tender and frantic emotions that bleed out from the screen and seep directly into your heart.
With a great storyline, empathetic performances from its leads, and colorfully extravagant cinematography, you’ll be heartbroken by the time the credits roll.