On January 22, “Jamojaya” premiered at Eccles Theatre in Park City, Utah for the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. The director of “Jamojaya,” Justin Chon, expressed his sentiment for the project during the pre-screening portion of the second viewing.

“My purpose as a filmmaker is to bring empathy to the AAPI community, so to further that, I am repping the Southeast Asian community,” Chon spoke.

Representation throughout the film is done beautifully with Bahasa Indonesia being over half of the film’s primary language. However, it is one of the few things well-done in the movie.

“Jamojaya” follows a father-son duo, as James (Brian Imanuel) tries to find a way to cut from his previous manager — his father (Yayu A.W. Unru). James receives a huge American record deal and spends his time crafting his debut record with the label in Hawai’i. The film tackles racism within the industry, as well as a broken relationship between James and his father.

Chon also adds a side-plot of the two mourning over James’ brother’s death. This detail of the death is brought up multiple times throughout the film, but there is no direction taken with this fact. The characters act sad, but that is the only depth they reach.

Together, James and his dad play tag throughout the film. James will ask his dad to leave, then he refuses. Later on, they will argue, then share a loving moment in apologies. The characters do this more than three times within 90 minutes. This ongoing dynamic makes the film appear longer than it is. The plot becomes a snooze within minutes. With Justin Chon’s filmographic history, he is known to be a better director than a writer.

The colors are honey-hued, warm and often stick to an earth-tone palette. The shots complement the colors, leading to a striking appearance at first sight. However, these sights become dull after 30 minutes.

For an inexperienced actor, Imanuel does a pleasantly surprising performance. It is worth noting Imanuel had taken no acting classes before filming. Unru also put on an act worth watching as well. The two have great chemistry, even using comedy to patch up their character’s pain. But the lack of personality within these characters from the poor screenwriting instantly depleted the actors’ potential.

Chon had a strong vision and unique talent. Still, the film is empty. With an unfulfilled story and odd sub-plots, “Jamojaya” ends up in disappointment. Chon’s previous films have had a consistent problem. The hopes of “Jamojaya” becoming the breaking of Chon’s poor writing curse did not come true.

But, Imanuel’s breaking acting debut may be the launching point for his next casting. The rapper-to-actor pipeline is not typical, however, Imauel could make it possible with his enjoyable performance as James.

Verdict: Justin Chon creates another bland story with “Jamojaya,” but Rich Brian could take the film as a stepping stone into a successful acting career.


  • Jaelyn Gonzalez

    Jaelyn Gonzalez is a former Arts & Entertainment Assistant Editor for the Highlander. Her love for alternative culture brought her to report on the independent arts and SoCal culture. When she is not writing she is DJ'ing!