Justin Chon on His New Film ‘Ms. Purple’ And Asian-American Cinema
Justin Chon’s stark debut film Gook , which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017, announced the Korean-American director and former Twilight series star as an impressive new force in dramatic cinema. His latest film, Ms. Purple, shows him continue to spread his wings and experiment with style and form.Whereas Gook was a raw, touching urban drama, Ms. Purple has a refined beauty that reminds the viewer of an emotional Douglas Sirk melodrama or Wong Kar-wai’s lush In the Mood for Love . On Saturday, it played as the centrepiece of the Asian-American International Film Festival in New York.
The story, which Chon wrote with the actor and writer Chris Dinh, focuses on a hard-pressed hostess in Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighbourhood who gradually finds her dignity and self-respect.
Kasie – who is Ms Purple by night – is frequently exploited by her clients, who force her to perform sexual favours and are violent and abusive. Even her wealthy boyfriend has a transactional view of their relationship, and takes advantage of her. It’s a true depiction of Koreatown, Chon says.
“Hostessing is still very much alive in Koreatown,” he says. “We took a few journalists out to eat and visit karaoke bars in Koreatown, and they were like, ‘Oh my god, this stuff really happens’. It’s rooted in truth and reality. It might seem dramatic, but that kind of stuff happens all the time.”
Some Asian-American moviemakers like to self-identify as Asian-American filmmakers, others try to avoid the tag completely. Chon says he’s never really thought about it.
“I don’t think there is any way for me to avoid being an Asian-American filmmaker, as my experience of life informs my films,” he says. “I am an Asian-American, so my experiences of this country and the viewpoints I have acquired are related to that. That has to be my perspective,” he says.
“The challenge of being an Asian-American filmmaker is really one of exposure. The more normal it gets to see Asian-American films, the less of a big thing it becomes. The films just become human rather than Asian-American,” Chon adds.
Photo credit: South China Morning Post