Chu and Blossom (2014)

Welcome to town!

Welcome to town!

The Pop Culture Historian uses his time volunteering for the Boston Asian American Film Festival to change it up a bit and review something from the independent movie scene for the first time in a long time. In fact, I think Lie was the last indie film we reviewed here.

Chu and Blossom follows Joon Chu (Director Charles Chu) as he moves into East Jesus Nowhere, USA as an exchange student to help his admission into a top Korean university. There, he meets offbeat performance artist Butch Blossom (Ryan O’Nan) and Cherry Swade (Caitlin Stasey), and they change Joon’s life forever.

Having seen The Namesake as well as many independent films featuring Julie Chen, this is hardly the first movie I’ve ever seen exploring the life of an Asian person coming to America for the first time. We get the requisite showcase of dumb Americans showing their cultural ignorance by calling Joon (a Korean) a “Chinaman” and “Godzilla”. I’ll admit I have a hard time commenting on the accuracy because I have managed to surround myself with people of above-average education for the most part; Americans of the sort depicted here haven’t showed up among the people I interact with.

Unlike other movies I have seen, I did appreciate Chu and Blossom taking a few stabs at Asian values, particularly when it comes to parental expectations of their children. Joon’s parents constantly remind him (and us) that they expect him to go to a top university and then become the most respected engineer in Korea. It’s clear they haven’t even once thought about what Joon actually wanted for himself.

The movie was very funny throughout, thanks largely to Ryan O’Nan’s acting. Butch is a performance artist who acts purely on impulse and has never been to school to hone his talents. He is exactly nightmare material for stereotypical proper Asian parents. He opens Joon’s eyes to a world that Joon could not possibly have imagined.

Where the movie faltered was in Cherry’s character. Cherry was supposed to be another rebellious girl, but she was woefully underdeveloped and ultimately served to be little more than Joon’s token love interest. All she did was take time away from things like seeing Joon interact with Butch or deal with other things in his life that would have been more interesting.

From a bigger picture, Cherry helped Chu and Blossom ultimately be a little hypocritical in its message. Chu and Blossom celebrated how the title characters rebelled against cultural expectations, yet by giving Joon the requisite romance, the movie showed itself to be trying to appeal to mainstream audiences after all. I would have enjoyed the movie a lot more if Chu and Blossom was about…just Chu and Blossom. Seeing Charles Chu and Ryan O’Nan interact was the best part of the movie as the two actors had a lot of chemistry.

From a technical perspective, the movie did well. The scenes were well-shot and well-edited. The movie’s low budget showed in a dream sequence that involved some CGI, which wasn’t done that well. There is a reason why most indie flicks don’t even attempt it. Some scenes did get a bit overwhelmed with music, though thankfully nowhere near to the same extent as The Fault in Our Stars (which so far, is still the worst movie of 2014 I have seen so far). Early shots of the movie, such as when we see Joon working by himself in school, reminded me of scenes from some of my favorite Japanese movies where nary a word is said, and the movie just shows us what was going on.

I’m cynical enough to feel “indie film” is another way of saying “manipulative bore” thanks to movies like The Fault in Our Stars and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I think it may be because it’s been a while since the last time I’ve seen a movie that actually couldn’t afford Willem Dafoe or Emma Watson (though Alan Cummings, who was invincible in GoldenEye, made an appearance here). Chu and Blossom is far from perfect, but it’s a good effort by Charles Chu and overall worth checking out once.

Score: 3/4