March 20, 2018

Gook: In the Shadow of the Rodney King Trial

Han-guk means Korea. Mi-guk, America. Because of the second syllable here, some believe the racist term "gook" comes from ignorant U.S. soldiers mishearing Koreans say the names of these countries. It's not the only possible root but it's touched upon with lovely poignancy in writer-director-actor Justin Chon's Gook when the movie's protagonist, a first generation Korean-American store-owner named Eli (played by Chon), must explain the graffiti-ed insult — that's been spray-painted onto his car by vandals — to a wide-eyed 11-year-old girl (Simone Baker) who hangs out at his shop when she's skipping school. Korean-American heritage comes into play in a variety of interesting ways throughout Chon's sophomore feature film: the relationship between Eli and Mr. Kim (Sang Chon, Justin's real-life father), the cranky liquor store owner who used to be a business partner with Eli's dad; the somewhat-doomed R&B aspirations of Daniel (David So), Eli's browbeaten brother; the cultural clash between the two siblings and the black neighborhood surrounding their store, tensions which have been exacerbated by the travesty of the Rodney King trial and the ensuing riots, both of which serve as a backdrop to the action.

Basically a slice-of-life film, shot in exquisite black-and-white by Ante Chang, Gook is the type of shoestring art-film that you hope earns Chon some studio respect so that his next heartfelt movie can be made without pulling in favors. The winner of an Independent Spirit Award literally as "Someone to Watch," Chon's clearly got talent to spare as a director, screenwriter, and actor... possibly a hair model, too. You might recognize him as Eric Yorkie from the Twilight movies but this guy appears to have his eyes on something deeper than a fat wallet. So would someone pull out their fat wallet and starting funding his next film? Or at least pony up enough money for him to produce a new video with BgA (Boys generally Asian), his mock K-Pop band?

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