‘Who Is Arthur Chu?’: Film Review | Slamdance 2017

Courtesy of Sundance
More impactful as a social document than as an internet celebrity profile.

Contestant Arthur Chu crushed on 'Jeopardy!' and now he wants to help change online culture for the better, this doc reveals.

In Jeopardy! format, the clue might go something like: “This controversial contestant won 11 games and earned almost $300,000 on this show.” The response, of course, would be: “Who is Arthur Chu?”

If the name of this 2014 winner still isn’t familiar, you may not be spending enough time watching TV or hanging out online, where Chu sometimes can be found writing about social and cultural issues for a variety of outlets. Yu Gu and Scott Drucker’s eponymous documentary relies primarily on Chu’s lower profile, post-Jeopardy! period for material, which comes off as rather uneventful and as a result could limit interest primarily to streaming services and perhaps VOD following the film’s festival run.

Chu’s Jeopardy! appearances began in January 2014 and were marked by controversy over his style of play, which focused on strategic bets and exploiting the clues most likely to result in higher payouts in an effort to maximize winnings. Some of the show’s fans considered this approach objectionable, alleging that it was inconsistent with the usual game strategy, although Chu wasn’t the originator of the technique that ended up netting him a small fortune.

His Jeopardy! participation attracted both support and criticism on Twitter, some of it directed at his Asian heritage. Chu’s response was to engage and try to counteract the internet trolls, an attempt that met with mixed results. By the time the film catches up with him, Chu is wrapping up his Jeopardy! run and returning to his fulltime job as an insurance analyst while seeking opportunities to convert his minor celebrity into writing and public speaking opportunities.

One of his first appearances is at the Techmanity conference in San Jose, where he delivers a rather underwhelming presentation about sexism in the technology sector. Other engagements are lower profile, involving speeches to Asian-American organizations and seniors groups focusing on racism and misogyny in society and particularly internet culture. Assignments writing for online outlets including The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post appear to fall more into the realm of cultural commentary or current affairs analysis rather than any first-hand reporting.

Hardcore trolls attack him again after he speaks out on the “Gamergate” controversy and eventually he drops off Twitter altogether. (However, he’s now active again with more than 30,000 followers, rebranding himself as a “comedian, actor, and freelance voiceover artist,” although none of those activities is covered in the film.) Among other challenges, Chu also must contend with his wife Eliza’s debilitating fibromyalgia, which leaves her feeling constantly weak and tired. At the same time he’s trying to improve relations with his father Ang-Ling, a chemist whom he continues to blame for his own strict upbringing, as well as another difficult issue involving a perceived personal betrayal.

In between his public speaking appearances, Gu and Drucker listen in on Chu’s conversations with Eliza about finding him more freelance work and her struggle with an in-progress sci-fi novel, or shadow him on visits with his family. Their central interview is intercut with these other segments and offers Chu, a self-described nerd, the opportunity to express his thoughts and feelings regarding sexism and discrimination, as well as his own celebrity.

Even when he seems to be trying to adopt a righteous attitude, Chu sometimes comes across as self-righteous rather than sympathetic and perhaps deliberately self-promotional. Jeopardy! clips, news footage and Chu family home videos round out the editorial package, although the paucity of inherently absorbing material drags on the film’s pacing.

Recognizing that much of the past and ongoing conflict in his life appears to arise from his experience growing up as the conflicted child of immigrants, Chu decides to join his family on a visit to Taiwan to meet his relatives and get acquainted with his parents’ birth country in an attempt to “find some kind of peace.” How he might modify his contentious public persona as a result of the trip is unclear, but it looks to be a turning point for Chu and his family. 

Production company: Transient Media

Directors: Yu Gu, Scott Drucker

Producers: Scott Drucker, Yu Gu

Executive producers: Mark Jonathan Harris, Rocque Trem

Directors of photography: Scott Drucker, Yu Gu

Editor: Christopher Makoto Yogi

Music: Alex Zhang Hungtai

Sales: Preferred Content

 

Not rated, 90 minutes

comments powered by Disqus