The question posed by the title of this documentary, ‘Who is Arthur Chu?’, is a layered one. Most people watching this in England may not have come across him before, but in the States, he is a relatively renowned public figure. What Scott J. Drucker and Yu Gu seek to explore in their documentary, though, is how easily we can feel we know someone in the public eye and make assumptions about them, without really getting to the heart of the person.
Chu rose to fame as a sort of resident villain on American quiz show Jeopardy. He combined his ferocious IQ with fiendish tactics and ruthless determination to dominate a game that was seen generally as one of luck. He didn’t play by the rules, he put his opponents off, and unapologetically earned his title of eleven-time champion of the game. Following this, Chu became somewhat of an unlikely celebrity, and in this film, we see him attempting to use that fame for the greater good.
There is a widely held idea of the stereotypical Chinese/American being highly intelligent, but quiet, unobtrusive and polite. Chu is at his most engaging when he talks about challenging those preconceived ideas, and going against what people expect of him. The documentary sees him not only speaking confidently on stage to a room full of people, but also in intimate family moments, most notably the strained and particularly awkward exchanges that he has with his father, who seems slightly disapproving of Chu’s career in the public eye.
We are shown his journey from Jeopardy villain to writer and public speaker, voicing important cultural issues. He recently wrote a powerful piece that went viral about Elliot Rodgers, the Isla Vista shooter who claimed that he was driven to murder because of the way women had treated him in the past. Chu serves as a spokesperson of ‘nerd culture’ and is working to expose and combat the misogyny that he says is prevalent in the psyche of the ‘nerd’ or the outcast. As relatively unchartered territory, it makes for fascinating subject matter.
It is at times quite difficult viewing. Chu’s every move is accompanied by the onslaught of shockingly abusive tweets that are displayed across the screen as he reads through them. This technique is powerful, as there is such a disconnect in this day and age between the online presence and the human behind it. People forget that the people they are ‘trolling’ are real human beings with lives and loved ones, and this film deals with this concept in a clever and moving way. Chu is a married man, who struggles with his family as well as finding time to spend with his then wife, Eliza Blair, and be a supportive husband to her through her battle with fibromyalgia.
Drucker and Gu have created something original and personal. Chu is an unconventional spokesperson and at times a very flawed character, but he is someone who is constantly going against what is expected of him. He is a difficult subject, though, he is reserved and seems slightly out of touch with his emotions, so the task to get under his skin is difficult, but the directors have created something engaging and interesting with the material they have.
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