In his previous film, the pulsing and sensational drama Gook, director Justin Chon explored sibling bonds amidst the backdrop of the L.A. Riots. The complicated relationships between siblings are once again on display in his enthralling film Ms. Purple. This time around Chon offers a nuanced look the parental burdens that siblings must often carry.
It is a weight that Kasie (Tiffany Chu) knows all too well. She has been quietly shouldering the load since she was a child. When not working as a doumi, a paid hostess who serves drinks and provides companionship for wealthy guys at karaoke bar, she tends to her dying father (James Kang). Reluctant to put her dad in a hospice, partly do to a sense of duty and partly because she lacks the funds needed, Kasie has no choice but to reach out to her estranged brother Carey (Teddy Lee) for help.
Running away from home at age 15, Carey’s life is stuck in a similar rut to his sister. Spending most of his days hanging out at an internet café, Carey agrees to temporarily move back home and look after their father while Kasie is at work. As the siblings slowly reconnect, the pair must not only confront the scars of the past, but the uncertainty of their futures.
One can make a good argument that the siblings veered of the road of life long before they were old enough to drive. As Chon shows in brief flashbacks, it was their parents who crashed the car and left them to pick up the pieces. Kasie and Carey’s mother abandoned to start a new life with a wealthy man. Living in a lavish house, she denies the existence of her children and anything that resembles her previous life. Their father never fully accepted that his wife was not coming back. Instead he put all his faith in Kasie and forced Carey, who took his mother’s decision hard, to endure the brunt of his rage.
While the sins of the parents are the catalyst for the sibling’s spiral, Ms. Purple is more concerned with how Kasie and Carey find strength and hope within each other. One of the most touching moments comes when Kasie, who endures so much hardship in silence, opens up to Carey about how she really makes money. Though they have each made less than desirable decisions in life, the lack of judgment for the other is what allows glimmers of light to shine through the gloom that surrounds them.
It is this mix of beauty and sadness that makes Chon’s vision of Los Angeles’ Koreatown so captivating. Much like the siblings themselves, the sunny palm tree lined streets hide a darker side. In Chon’s hands both posh events and neon-soaked karaoke bars are feeding grounds for toxic masculinity. Places were Kasie is forced to put on a façade while navigating men who only care about status and control.
Just as the sun offers the siblings a sense of rejuvenation, Ms. Purple frequently offers rays of hope for Kasie and Carey. Whether it is in the form of a potential love interest for Kasie, a valet at the karaoke bar named Octavio (Octavio Pizano), or amusing moments involving Carey pushing his father’s bed down the street, one walks away from the film confident that the pair will find their way. While Chon leaves it to the audience to ponder what comes next for the siblings, one knows that together the weight they carry is much more bearable.