Film ‘Gook’ delves into L.A. riots

Justin Chon and Simone Baker in the award-winning drama ‘Gook.’ © 2017 Birthday Soup Films, LLC

Twenty-five years ago Los Angeles was hit by a major social disturbance with race at its core. This summer the City of Angels itself serves a the launching pad for the nationwide release of a movie about the 1992 L.A. Civil Unrest.

“Gook,” an award winner at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, dares to delve into race relations, a hot and sensitive topic since the political rise of Donald Trump. But the film does it through the prism of an unlikely friendship between two Korean-American siblings who work at their family store in South L.A. and an 11-year-old African-American girl. The film opens Aug. 18 in L.A. with a dozen cities following a week across the U.S.

Directed and written by Justin Chon, the dramatic film won the audience award in the Next section of Sundance. Next features “p
ure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling populate this program”–as noted by festival organizers. Shot in black-and-white, the film dares to use as an ethnic slur as its title. The online dictionary Merriam-Webster labels “gook” as an “offensive” word used towards a “nonwhite or non-American person; specifically: asian.”

“Gook” takes place on April 29, 1992. That is the day when L.A. exploded after three white police officers were acquitted in the infamous beating of black motorist Rodney King–which was caught on videotape and shocked the politically progressive Californian metropolis, the United States and the world.

In the film, Eli and Daniel are two Korean American brothers who own a struggling shoe store and befriend Kamilla, young African American student who ditches junior high school to hang out with them.

A regular day is turned upside-down as the news of the jury verdict in the Rodney King case is announced and the city finds itself unprepared for the public’s reaction. The trio’s friendship is tested by spreading rioting and looting threatens the store. So is the the city’s fabric and soul as well as its present and future.

Actor Cesar Garcia

Eli, Daniel and Kamilla are played by director Chon himself, David So and Simone Baker. The main characters become symbols of two communities and cultures, the Korean Americans entrepreneurs pursuing dreams of a brighter future and the working-class African Americans struggling to make ends meet, brought together by the economic and social realities of the dynamic L.A. of the 1990s.

While focused on the relations between Korean Americans and blacks, director Chon seems to acknowledge undergoing major demographic changes of that time, too. The film features Latino faces in minor roles, including performances by Cesar Garcia, Ignacio Bautista, Ben Munoz and Louie Ledezma. Furthermore, Jason Morales is credited as one of several executive producers.

In addition to Sundance, “Gook” has played at various fests and scored additional honors, including four prizes at the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival this year–best actress for Baker, best director for Chon, audience award for best film and grand jury prize. It also won the best feature film jury award at Las Vegas Film Festival. 
“Gook” is Chon’s second full feature.


Friday, Aug. 18
Los Angeles, CA, ArcLight Hollywood and Regal LA LIVE Stadium

Friday, Aug. 25, 2017
New York, NY, Regal Union Square 14
Anaheim, CA, Edwards Anaheim Hills 14
Berkeley, CA, Landmark Shattuck Cinemas
San Francisco, CA, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission
San Diego, CA, Edwards Mira Mesa Stadium 18 IMAX & RPX
Washington, DC,Regal Majestic 20 & IMAX
Atlanta, GA, Regal Atlantic Station  Stadium 16 & IMAX
Honolulu, HI, Regal Theaters Dole Cannery Stadium 18 & IMAX
Las Vegas, NV, Regal Village Square Stadium 18
Portland, OR, Regal Fox Tower Stadium 10
Houston, TX, Edwards Greenway Grand Palace Stadium 24 & RPX
Seattle, WA, Regal Meridian 16
Irvine, CA, Edwards University Town Center 6


Author: Cesar Arredondo

Journalist with more than 20 years of experience working for English- and Spanish-language and bilingual news outlets. Winner of three Best of the West Journalism Awards and a recognition from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.

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