Review: ‘Gook’

Equally heartbreaking and funny, Gook can get the viewers feeling all the feels, as well as asking all the questions

Eli (Justin Chon) and Kamilla (Simone Baker). Photo: IMDb.

On April 29, 1992, four white police officers were acquitted of use of excessive force on Rodney King. The court’s decision shook Los Angeles, increasing the racial tensions in the city. Gook, written and directed by Justin Chon, explores this day through the story of two Korean-American brothers, Eli (Justin Chon) and Daniel (David So), and a black girl named Kamilla (Simone Baker), who likes hanging out at their shoe store instead of going to school.

A bridge between African-Americans and Korean-Americans, Kamilla has no side in the conflict between the different communities in Los Angeles. When Eli finds his car vandalized with the word “Gook” written it, a derogatory term used to describe Koreans, Kamilla asks him what the word means. Given the choice between perpetuating the cycle of hatred or explaining the literal meaning of the word, Eli tells her the word originated in the Korean War and that “Me Gook” means “America.”

A simple, yet powerful moment in the movie, this scene not only displays the true friendship between a young man and a girl, but most importantly, it gives an insight into race relations in America. Entirely populated by Asian, Black, and Latino characters, Gook delivers reflections on racism and violence without even showing up at your door step. Most of the time, these reflections are subtle, like the scene with the word “gook” or when Kamilla is surveilled in a liquor store by its Korean owner, which invokes the Latasha Harlins shooting, when a 15-year-old girl was fatally shot by Soon Ja Du, a liquor store owner who thought she was shoplifting.

Shot entirely in black and white, a common technique used in photography to concentrate the attention on what’s in the frame, the movie takes away the attention from colors and centers the viewer’s eyes on the story. The absence of colors and the manipulation of light throughout the film makes the story even more raw than it already is.

Equally heartbreaking and funny, Gook can get the viewers feeling all the feels, as well as asking all the questions. Twenty-five years after the Los Angeles riots, the movie presents the audience with the opportunity to take a look back and measure how far society has come, or if it has come anywhere. As for the writer and director Justin Chon, asking those questions seems to be his goal in filmmaking. When asked by Brian Chu from Nerd Reactor about his next project, Chon said, “I don’t know if you’ve seen news of these people who lived here 40 years, and because their parents didn’t do all the proper paperwork, they are being deported. I hope that’s my next project.”

Director: Justin Chon

Screenplay: Justin Chon

Genre: Drama/Comedy

Running Time: 1h 35m

About the Author

A 25-year-old Brazilian getting lost in the Big Sky. I like movies, books, chicken wings, and unfinished stories.