×

Sundance Film Review: ‘Ms. Purple’

Semi-estranged siblings reunite over their father's deathbed in 'Gook' director Justin Chon's stylish character drama.

Director:
Justin Chon
With:
Tiffany Chu, Teddy Lee, Octavio Pizano, James Kang, Ronnie Kim, Alma Martinez, Abigail Kim, Daniel Kim. (English, Korean, Spanish dialogue)

1 hour 27 minutes

A sharp detour from the deliberately raw feel of his well-received prior “Gook,” which won the NEXT audience award at Sundance two years ago, Justin Chon’s “Ms. Purple” is a character study-cum-mood piece of dolorous style and saturated color. Some may find it a little too mood-driven, with perhaps a few too many dialogue-free, plot-lite interludes of characters looking glamorously angst-ful. But there’s enough substance here to reward the patient in this tale of two disparately isolated siblings reuniting during their father’s last weeks in L.A.’s Koreatown.

Childhood flashbacks scattered throughout gradually clue us to the key event of Kasie (Tiffany Chu) and Carey’s (Teddy Lee) lives: When they were little, their mother walked out on the family, dismissing their father Young-il (James King) as a “loser.” She soon found a more financially advantageous second husband — whom she left in the dark about her prior one, not to mention the kids.

Decades later, Kasie still lives at home with dad, though now he’s bedridden (and seemingly comatose) from a terminal illness never specified. She refuses to put him into a hospice, despite all advice from medical professionals, including the live-in nurse who quits at the start here. No one else will take the gig, so Kasie is forced to ring up Carey, with whom communication has evidently been sparse since he ran away from home at age 15 over conflicts with dad.

After a fashion, Carey does very reluctantly agree to come back home and help. It’s not like he has much else going on — we get the sense he’s adrift, with no visible employment or friends. By contrast, Kasie’s bill-paying responsibilities are many, yet all seem somewhat degrading, as if the onetime serious classical-piano aspirant were punishing herself with them. She’s a hostess at an upscale karaoke bar, forever getting pawed by drunken foreign businessmen. She does have a “boyfriend” in the form of rich clothing-industry maven Tony (Ronnie Kim). He’s young, handsome, generous, and they have good sex, apparently. Yet this relationship also seems to be cash-based, with her primary role as arm-candy at ritzy events where she gets shown off, then ignored.

There’s a somewhat affected (albeit stylish) monotony to the way Chon keeps cutting between the false cheer of Kasie’s dress-up jobs and her depressing home life. But she, and the film, enliven with the return of Carey, whose prankish streak (as well as lingering parental hostility) gets expressed in his taking dad for “outings” behind her back — wheeling his entire hospital-type bed into the street as if it were a wheelchair.

The siblings recover some of their old mutual rapport, despite fundamentally different personalities. Kasie even loosens up enough to accept the non-transactional attentions of Octavio (Octavio Pizano), a valet parker who came to her aid during a karaoke-customer altercation.

Chon and Chris Dinh’s screenplay leaves plenty of blank space for the viewer to fill in the characters’ backstories and motivations. (Tony’s intentions toward Kasie, in particular, remain more cipherous than necessary.) There are scattered confrontations, but not many, and “Ms. Purple” is one of those films that feels longer than it is because too many passages don’t seem to advance what little plot there is.

Nonetheless, those passages are always inviting in sensory terms, with DP Ante Cheng lending a restive, lonely handsomeness to the often nocturnal images. Abetting his often vivid color palette are the contributions of production designer Bo Koung Shin and costumer Eunice Jera Lee. The bass thump and disco lighting of Kasie’s professional party milieus are counterbalanced by mournful strings in Roger Suen’s original score.

Even if you may sometimes wish for a little more psychological insight into their characters, the actors are very good. Chu and Lee both easily sustain sequences where we’re meant to read the maps of the siblings’ souls sans any helpful dialogue. Though not in their class, “Ms. Purple” aims for something of the bruised romance of alienation and ennui that Antonioni made his name on (most notably “La Notte” and “L’Eclisse”). The fact that it even lands in the same ballpark without growing too pretentious or mannered — though it’s admittedly a little of both — is admirable, not least for simply being so out-of-step with any current cinematic vogue.

Popular on Variety

Sundance Film Review: 'Ms. Purple'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 26, 2019. Running time: 87 MIN.

Production: A Plan Zero production. (Int'l sales: 30West, Los Angeles.) Producers: Alex Chi, Justin Chon, Alan Pao, James J. Yi. Co-producers: Nam Luong, Lily Vi Pham, Eric McGaw, Ted Chung. Executive producers: Mia Dae Kim, Daniel Dae Kim, Pierre Delachaux, Blaine Vess, Ante Cheng, Datari Turner, Eric McGaw, Reece Hammer, Rich Young Jr., Dennis Kwon, Jun Y. Lee, Ian Choe, Brian Ru, Byron Lichtenstein, Nara Lee, Peter Kim, Larry Teng, James Sereno, Brian Lam, Chris Lewis, Kymber Lim, Gabriel Napora, Yas Taalat, Cody Sparshu, Luke Daniels, Jeff Rice.

Crew: Director: Justin Chon. Screenplay, Chon, Chris Dinh. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Ante Cheng. Editors: Reynolds Barney, Jon Berry. Music: Roger Suen.

With: Tiffany Chu, Teddy Lee, Octavio Pizano, James Kang, Ronnie Kim, Alma Martinez, Abigail Kim, Daniel Kim. (English, Korean, Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Suro

    Lastor, ‘The Endless Trench’s’ Irusoin, Malmo Team for Mikel Gurrea’s ‘Suro’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Barcelona-based Lastor Media and Malmo Pictures have teamed with San Sebastian’s Irusoin to produce “Suro” (The Cork), the feature debut of Mikel Gurrea and a product of San Sebastian’s Ikusmira Berriak program. The film stars Laia Costa, who broke through with Sebastian Schipper’s “Victoria” and also serves as executive producer, and Pol López [...]

  • Ane

    Madrid’s ECAM Incubator Develops Terrorism Drama 'Ane'

    SAN SEBASTIAN — For the second year in a row, the ECAM Madrid Film School has paired a number of up-and-coming filmmakers with various industry veterans for an Incubator program part of the school broader development arm called The Screen. For its initial edition in 2018, this Incubator selected five feature projects, putting the selected [...]

  • Roma Cinematography

    'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' and 'Roma' Win LMGI Awards for Motion Pictures

    Two major 2018 releases – actioner “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and critics’ darling “Roma” – were honored for film location work by the Location Managers Guild International at a ceremony this evening at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The 6th Annual LMGI Awards also recognized “Chernobyl” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” [...]

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

  • Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider'

    Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider' Gets a Concert/Screening Premiere at Radio City

    In a year full of major 50th anniversary commemorations — from Woodstock to the moon landing — why not one for “Easy Rider,” Dennis Hopper’s hippie-biker flick that was released on July 14, 1969? That was the idea when a rep for Peter Fonda, who starred in the film as the laid-back Captain America, reached out [...]

  • Costa Gavras

    Costa-Gavras and Cast on Nationality, Identity, and Cinema

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Though he’s been based in Paris since 1955 and came up through the French film industry, director Costa-Gavras has never forgotten his roots. “Those who are born Greek,” said the Peloponnese-born filmmaker at a Saturday press conference,  “stay Greek all their lives.” The once-and-always Greek was not just in San Sebastian to [...]

  • Lorene Scafaria, Jennifer Lopez. Lorene Scafaria,

    'Hustlers' Director Lorene Scafaria: 'We Wanted to Treat It Like a Sports Movie'

    The star-studded cast of “Hustlers” didn’t just become strippers in the empowering female-helmed blockbuster — they also became athletes. When speaking to “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria explained the extreme athleticism required of the movie’s leading actresses, who all had [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content