Chon stars alongside David So and Simone Baker to examine the 1992 South Central riots from a Korean perspective.
The 1992 L.A riots are an incident Americans—especially Koreans—and Black people have never forgotten. After all, Korean store owners setting up shops in black communities have often brought up tensions through the United States. While the mainstream narrative on race in the United States today is usually focused on black and white relations, director and actor Justin Chon reminds us that isn’t the case.
Race relations between Black and Asian Americans are rarely portrayed on screen or talked about. People of color are often accessories to the white narrative on screens. With a dreamy black and white film that lets personal narratives take center stage, Gook dives into the micro level events that show a fuller picture of the dynamics of the riots itself.
Gook revolves around two Korean American brothers Eli (Chon) and David (David So) who take over their father’s shoe store in Paramount and the five days leading to the infamous LA riots. Kamilla (Simone Baker) is an unofficial helper at the store who hangs out with Eli and David. They form a small family. What I appreciated most about the film was that the brothers and Kamilla’s narrative comes first with the riots and Rodney King trial as the backdrop.
How many times have our stories taken a seat behind documentaries and commentators hashing and rehashing events like the riots,as if our stories don’t matter? The movie shows that the key to starting to understanding lies in understanding people’s stories. The rundown women’s shoe store and the liquor store across the street reflects the modesty of immigrant Korean stores that range from delis, dry cleaners, fish stores and beauty products. The oscillation between the carefree movements and the tense violence that takes place shows the complicated nature of Korean and black relations in the neighborhood.
“Gook is a much needed film that humanizes the LA Riots”
Anyone watching the movie will be able to feel the gritty, real, emotions that the film evokes which is probably due to the fact that the directors and actors in this film had a personal connection to film. Justin Chon’s dad (who plays the liquor store owner in the film) in real life owned a store that was looted on the last day of the LA riots and David So’s parents own a beauty supply store. However, the shining star is Simone Baker who makes her debut in this film.
I came out of the theater with my heart heavy but excited by what I just watched. Gook is a much needed film that humanizes the LA Riots and brings to the forefront Korean and black relations in the Korean American perspective. There are many truths that the movie touches—poverty, broken families, racism—without laying blame. But the the saddest truth that the movie reveals is that in the face of violence, it’s the innocent who lose the most.
An artistic, humanizing, complicated movie that I highly recommend. And it doesn’t hurt that I’m supporting directors, actors, filmmakers of color—it only adds a cherry on top.