Rating: 3 out of 5
Okay, so I was starting to get self-conscious that I am giving too many 3 out of 5 ratings, but then I remember that my next movie review is a 4 out of 5 so I am going to stick to my intuitive 3 star rating for this movie, Gook.
This movie takes place after Rodney King's death and before the L.A. riots broke out in the 90's. It is a pretty insane part of American history. A period of civil unrest that came to a head in the aftermath of Rodney King, taking form as looting and rioting that largely affected Koreatown and playing out along the division of racial tensions between Korean and Black-Americans. The police were too scared to interfere so it was left to the sovereignty of the peoples. Watch this YouTube clip to get just how crazy it was.
The movie did a great job of painting the larger story by telling a slice of it. It focuses on the sweet friendship between a young black girl, Kamilla, and a young Korean man, Eli, who runs his late father’s shoe store in the ghetto with his brother, Daniel.
It is done in black and white, which paints a grittiness to the picture that fit the storyline beautifully.
We are brought mid-way into a story that already has a beginning. We witness Eli get beat up by some people he knows and there is a familiarity between Kamilla, her family, and Eli that alludes to a past history.
Kamilla’s present family is her sister and brother who are protective but unavailable. Her brother works to support them and, while her sister is aware of Kamilla playing hooky, she doesn’t do much about it; presumably she has her own life to tend to.
So Kamilla is left to her own devices and she chooses to hang out with Eli and Daniel at their store, occasionally stealing from the liquor store across the street that is run by an irritable old Korean man who mutters foreign curses at her and treats her with suspicion.
This side story is important as it illustrates the divide between Koreans and blacks that bubbled over and erupted in this time period. We also witness the misunderstanding that occurs in these types of situations. One interaction too many can quickly paint a whole people group, generating social tensions by way of friction between cultures.
Eli and Daniel meanwhile are trying to keep a dead space afloat. It appears Eli is working hard to keep his father’s legacy alive, manifested in the store, while Daniel is shown as the less dedicated of the two to the store. He is more interested in his dream of being an R&B singer.
We see the daily lives of these characters intersect and intertwine in the mundane going’s on of a store in an urban ghetto while the story unfolds and we learn the tragedy that ties these characters together. The climax happens towards the end as everything bubbles over sparked and catalyzed by the L.A. riots, viewed from a distance in the movie. It occurs like a smoke signal in the distance.
Fire plays a significant role in the closing sequence. A death and loss potentially end a longstanding trauma, but we don’t know for sure. A Molotov cocktail thrown at the right time sets fire to a heavy burden and I could viscerally feel the release available in that moment. That culminating moment was phoenix rising from the ashes of destruction, the moment reborn into newness.
The reason I docked two stars was because I would have liked to see more depth in the movie. It touched upon beautiful parts of the story, such as the confession by the liquor store man and Kamilla’s home life, and there was all the potential for a truly compelling movie, but it never took me there.
Read my last Indie Flick review here for Birds Without Feathers