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Who Is Arthur Chu? From the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival

Ed Rampell: Who is Arthur Chu? works as a cultural case study of Asians living and growing up abroad in a country where they are members of a distinct minority group.

This is the second of three reviews form the recent Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Also see:

Arthur Chu

This 90-minute multi-faceted documentary about the 11-time Jeopardy! champ who won almost $300,000 during his 2014 game show winning streak operates on many levels. Overall, the L.A. premiere of this Arthur Chu biopic revealed he’s the firstborn of a Taiwanese family that relocated to Yankee Doodle Land in order to pursue the much-vaunted immigrants’ version of the American Dream. As such, Who is Arthur Chu? works as a cultural case study of Asians living and growing up abroad in a country where they are members of a distinct minority group. For instance, according to the doc, when Arthur attended grade school in the USA he was the only pupil of Chinese ancestry in his class, and he grew up feeling out of place, if not like a total ludicrous misfit.

Who is Arthur Chu? works as a cultural case study of Asians living and growing up abroad in a country where they are members of a distinct minority group.

But this film, co-directed by Chongqing, China-born, Vancouver-raised Yu Gu and Chicagoan Scott Drucker, deals with much more, such as a father-son struggle between Arthur and his demanding dad that Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev could have written a novel about. Chu’s relationship with his Caucasian wife Eliza is also depicted (and astute viewers watching the suddenly prominent Arthur reading messages on his cell phone, while Eliza tries to reach out to him with her problems, can probably predict the outcome by film’s end of their marriage).

Beyond family dramatics Who also depicts the Sturm und Drang engendered by the sudden celebrity status thrust upon Arthur. The film reveals what happens when “a nobody from nowheresville” becomes, thanks to national TV exposure on Jeopardy!, a proverbial overnight sensation and how the unknown Chu deals with his newfound fame (and fortune). Of course, Arthur tries to capitalize on his unexpected prominence by writing for outlets such as The Huffington Post and, Chautauqua-style, he hits the speaking circuit, as well as gets a book deal.

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But much to Chu’s credit he is not merely cashing in, like so many celebs do (hey Samuel L. Jackson, it’s none of your fucking business what’s in my wallet!!!), but uses his newly minted cult status to boldly speak out on pressing issues of the day, from the racial unrest in Ferguson after unarmed Michael Brown is shot to death to “Gamer-gate.” From the get-go Who shows how Arthur becomes the target of vicious online invective, trolled by computerized cretins who, among other things, wish death upon his wife, who suffers from the disorder fibromyalgia, and comes across as a perfectly nice person. Chu’s confronting misogyny on a panel about sexism and video game culture triggers even more outraged emails and tweets than did his unorthodox Jeopardy! tactics, which angered fans of the game show who apparently have far too much time (and devices) on and in their dubious hands.

In addition, Who goes into nerd culture - not only by showing it but at one speaking engagement Arthur verbally defines it. This was very on point because terms are often thrown around in public but never actually defined. (Populism is a case in point - but don’t get me started!)

Unlike By the Time It Gets Dark, this nonfiction motion picture portrait goes back and forth in time in a clear, coherent way, making skillful use of home movie footage, although some may feel that Arthur’s main claim to fame is not dwelled on enough (which could be due, perhaps, to copyright issues vis-à-vis Jeopardy!). Be that as it may, while the Asian ethnicity of the Filipino characters in Wexford Plaza is not even commented upon, Chu’s being an outspoken, outlandish individual who breaks stereotypical notions of the passive “Asian male” seems to be very much at the core of this thought provoking documentary. Its protagonist’s iconic, square-peg-in-a-round hole stature as a person of Taiwanese background in a majority non-Asian culture that, from the Chinese Exclusion Acts to today’s proposed Muslim bans, has historically and currently is racist helps to answer the question posed by this doc: Who is Arthur Chu? One can argue that like Bruce Lee physically did, Chu is mentally shattering preconceived geeky notions and tropes of the Asian male.

On May 6 Who is Arthur Chu? will be screened 9:30 p.m. at CGV Buena Park, 6988 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, CA 90621. For info on the rest of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival’s screenings in Orange County go here.

Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell

Film historian/reviewer Ed Rampell is co-presenting Sergei Eisenstein’s first feature-length movie Strike on Friday, 7:30 p.m., May 26, 2017 at The L.A. Workers Center, 1251 S. St. Andrews Place, L.A., CA 90019. This is part of the ongoing “Ten Films That Shook the World” series celebrating the centennial of the Russian Revolution, taking place on the fourth Friday of each month through November. For info: laworkersedsoc@gmail.com.