Movie Review: Gook
By Matthew Huntley
September 12, 2017
Chon starts out simply observing these characters on a seemingly routine day, but once the riots start and the Los Angeles police are nowhere to be found, tensions rise even more between the Koreans and African-Americans. This development becomes the engine Chon uses to make us wonder if: 1) the store will remain in Eli's hands and control; and 2) whether Eli, Daniel, Kamilla and Keith will literally survive the day.
How Gook plays out isn't exactly earth-shattering, and if you've seen Do the Right Thing, you'll find Chon's film adheres to the same structure Spike Lee already laid out, including the mixing of drama, comedy, dance, and a tragic, heartrending ending, which, in Chon's case, is a bit melodramatic and heavy-handed yet still effectual. Both films ultimately argue that racism infects all people in ways we're both aware and unaware of; that we're all guilty of possessing a racial perspective; and that racism, as a social construction, can be more pronounced between certain groups than others.
The way Chon takes the racism conversation in a different direction, though, and adds new layers to it, is by underlining the idea that we, as individuals, impose a lot of pressure on ourselves to adhere to the labels society has given us, and suggests that if we don't live up to such labels, we somehow feel we've betrayed “our kind.” In turn, this makes us self-conscious, angry and more prone to violence, both toward ourselves and others.
He also argues that racism need not necessarily stem from whites, which is the prevailing assumption. It's very much alive and rampant between non-white groups as well. In fact, “Gook” doesn't feature one prominent white character, which, from a narrative perspective, was refreshing; and on the level of a social commentary, this aspect was both eye-opening and troubling, because so many of us would like to think our racial problem could be linked to just one group - oftentimes whites - because that would make it easier to fix. But the ugly truth is that when it comes to racism, there are no easy answers and no quick fixes.
These are just some of the thoughts I had coming out of Gook. You may see it and interpret its intentions differently, but the important thing is the film has been made with the kind of care and attention that make us want interpret it. Much of this comes from Chon being careful to keep the story grounded and credible. He remembers to always let us see things from the point of view of real people - people we've come to care about and empathize with, and doesn't allow the film's greater themes to overshadow them. Thus, we remain engaged on a personal level.
Gook may be a small, low-profile film compared to the average Hollywood enterprise, and odds are you've probably never even heard of it until now, but look for it. It's not worthy because it's the latest example of “independent cinema,” but because it has complicated, well-drawn characters facing real problems and challenges us to think differently about a seemingly intractable issue. This is a film that's not only entertaining but one that jumpstarts important conversations we need to be having all the time.