Byung-jun, aka BJ, is a young twenty-something entrepreneur, who roams the streets of Chicago providing a wide range of items to customers in need. In writer/director Jason Park’s Sundance short BJ’s Mobile Gift Shop we witness his unusual career path, through an intimate lens, and follow the bustling day of a millennial hustler who chose an unconventional path to build his life.
Although Park admits he has “no idea where the general premise of BJ came”, he shared with us that many elements inspired the film, including: “a combination of being deeply homesick for Chicago”, an “infatuation for ‘work’ and characters who hustle” and some of his favorite films that share “a similar vibrance and tone”. While his own personal experience of “the time I had to drag my wife’s 50-pound suitcase throughout The Loop” added the idea of the suitcase. With all the interactions BJ has on his travels (the film was shot at almost 30 locations and with 20 speaking characters) on the surface this is film with a comedic, fast paced and enjoyable tone, but it really surprises with its emotional depth.
The character of BJ is written as the perfect embodiment of hustle culture, creative and resourceful, but given the aforementioned amount of locations, and the importance of being out in the streets in the narrative, Chicago also gets a starring role in the film. Its strong presence helps to ground the story and increase its authenticity and as Park points out, there’s a parallel between his character and the city’s “struggles to find its place in the world”. Tackling themes of family, society and the quest for self-fulfillment, BJ’s story is incredibly specific, but it is surprisingly relatable and thus engaging emotionally.
“Our main goal was to stay as true and authentic as possible to the on-the-ground experience”
Throughout the film’s 16-minute duration, the audience stay in BJ’s shoes, watching the day unfold from his perspective as he encounters numerous obstacles, Park putting him in scenarios where his inner thoughts about his endeavor and lifestyle can be felt through the screen. With the director explaining that their main goal in creating BJ’s Mobile Gift Shop was to “stay as true and authentic as possible to the on-the-ground experience”. To do this a lot relied on the believability of the short’s central character and Johnnyboy Tellem’s performance as the titular BJ is seriously impressive. Managing to convey his strengths and vulnerabilities simultaneously, he ensures struggle and empowerment are combined in this story with resounding effect.
BJ’s Mobile Gift Shop premiered at the 2021 edition of Sundance and picked up a few awards on its tour of the festival circuit, which also included a stop at the 2022 edition of the Palm Springs ShortFest. Park recently finished post-production on his first feature titled Transplant, and is currently writing his second, Darkest Night, for Ley Line Entertainment, one of the production companies behind Everything Everywhere All At Once.