Big Screen Berkeley: ‘Ms. Purple’, ‘A Taste of Honey’ and ‘Desolation Center’

Directed by Justin Chon, Ms. Purple is a drama about life in Los Angeles’ Koreatown

Even before its first reel has finished unspooling,* most viewers will intuit how Ms. Purple (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Sept. 20) will end. Never mind its predictability, though: this drama of life in Los Angeles’ Koreatown suggests there’s some truth to the old saying “it’s the journey that matters, not the destination” — and though that destination may be as predictable as tomorrow’s sunrise, Ms. Purple’s trek is a thoroughly watchable one.

Kasie (Tiffany Chu) is a 20-something Korean-American finding it increasingly difficult to care for her terminally ill father, immobilized in a coma and kept alive by an oxygen tank and a feeding tube. When his live-in nurse unexpectedly quits, Kasie reaches out to estranged brother Carey (Teddy Lee) in hopes he’ll be willing to watch dad in exchange for room and board; Carey agrees, but has his own ideas about how to care for the old man.

Kasie, meanwhile, lives three increasingly incompatible and challenging lives. Working as a good-time girl at a local karaoke parlor, she’s been taken under the wing of one of the bar’s wealthy patrons, abusive fashion designer Tony (Ronnie Kim); when she isn’t mixing him a drink or sustaining a beating she’s dating charming parking lot attendant Octavio (Octavio Pizano); at home, she’s the obedient daughter stubbornly ignoring professional advice to put her father in hospice.

The balance becomes impossible to maintain: dad isn’t getting any better and Casey keeps taking him on ill-advised field trips, while Tony is increasingly erratic and Octavio — well, Octavio just has to wait for things to sort themselves out. Poor Octavio.


Directed by Justin Chon (who co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Dinh), Ms. Purple largely works thanks to Cho and Lee, both excellent as siblings who resent and love their parents (mother isn’t entirely out of the picture) in near equal measure. It also includes the single best use of The Proclaimers’ hit ‘500 Miles’ I’ve seen on screen: no small accomplishment, considering its been featured  in everything from Benny and Joon to Burke and Hare.

‘A Taste of Honey’

A Taste of Honey is at BAMPFA as part of the series ‘Looking Back at the British New Wave’

Homosexuality, miscegenation, unwed motherhood: is it any wonder the Academy Awards completely ignored A Taste of Honey (screening at Pacific Film Archive at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Sept.22 as part of the series ‘Looking Back at the British New Wave’)?

Based on Shelagh Delany’s play of the same name — written when she was only 18! — A Taste of Honey is one of the greatest British films of the 1960s. Shot in stark black and white on the back streets of Manchester and along the Blackpool beachfront, the film introduced audiences to wide-eyed Rita Tushingham as Jo, an angry young woman searching for affection.

Love is only occasionally forthcoming from single Mum Ellen (my home girl Dora Bryan, in a truly unforgettable performance), who’s busy snaring a new husband. Left to her own devices, Jo befriends Johnny and Geoffrey (Paul Danquah and Murray Melvin), two very different lads who help her fill the void. Tushingham was never better than in this brutally honest kitchen sink drama.

‘Desolation Center’

Desolation Center: screening at Roxie Theater in San Francisco

I thoroughly enjoyed Desolation Center when it played earlier this year at Indiefest, so I’m pleased to see the film get wider exposure this coming week at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater. As extra incentive to check out the film, SRL main man Mark Pauline and Burning Man co-founder John Law will be in attendance at Friday’s 9:30 p.m. screening.

*Yes, I know most ‘films’ these days are delivered digitally, but I can’t let go of the colorful projection booth language of yore.