Title: Gook (2017)
Director: Justin Chon
Bias: As an Asian-American I’m a sucker for some good representation in American films.
In A Nutshell:
Set during the spring of 1992 in South Central Los Angeles, Justin Chon's Gook follows the stories of Korean-American Brothers Eli and Daniel. They own and operate their deceased fathers shoe store along with the help from an 11-year-old named Kamilla. All this while racial tensions rise as the Rodney King riots intensify in the background.
Have you seen Spike lee’s Do the Right Thing? Well take that memory and hold on to it for a sec and close your eyes. (Don’t do that, please keep reading) Now imagine that movie but in black and white. What you should have now is the bare bones explanation of what Gook is. But to leave it at that would be a shame because Gook is so much more.
Filmed in a beautiful black and white by cinematographer Ante Cheng, the City of Angels is cast in a dramatic shadow, contrasting the relatively undramatic life of a shoe store employee. Justin Chon desaturates his images to focus on his characters and story instead of the aesthetic color choices of sets, costumes, and props. Not to say that the film is lacking in visuals by any means - Ante Cheng handles the lens with great skill and does a phenomenal job of capturing the story.
Justin Chon shows his ability to pull great performances out of his actors, all while simultaneously matching them with his own performance. I always worry about the performances of child actors, but Simone Baker quickly set my worries to rest as 11-year-old Kamilla. David So does an excellent job of an employee that works for his older brother and hates his job. He also isn’t bad at singing which is great for the character who is an aspiring R&B singer.
The film does unfortunately dive from its fun dramedy to what can be described as cookie-cutter melodrama towards the end as tensions boil over. I wish it could have stayed in its state of laughing over a serious issue as it provided a unique perspective.
I left the movie disappointed in the ending but overall content with the experience overall. I do think its worth the money to rent, especially if you want to support Hollywood diversity. And that’s diversity in stories and in voices. I think Justin Chon is a name we should all pay attention to.