Film Review: ‘Gook’ highlights racial violence

Shedding light on the unknown story of historic systematic discrimination


By Twitter @justinchon

The date is April 29, 1992. Only hours after four white police officers were found not guilty for beating Rodney King, an African-American male, with their nightsticks. It was an act of brutality that an ameuter videographer caught on film. Riots spring up in South Central Los Angeles only moments after the verdict was announced. Racial tension between the area’s African-American and Korean population were already ugly, but after the King trial, skyrocketed to new heights.

But this racial divide did not stop an unlikely friendship between Eli and Daniel, Korean shoe store owners, and 11 year-old Kamilla, an African-American girl, from forming.

Justin Chon, the writer, director and stars in the film as Eli, was fearless in depicting the racism and brutality people faced in their daily lives in South Central Los Angeles, known today as South Los Angeles. The main focus of the film was not on the Rodney King verdict, an event that is still brought up when discussing issues with police brutality today, but rather on how the racism and sudden expulsion of violence had deadly, tragic effects. The angle of the story was both surprising and captivating because it turned a sensationalized news story into an incredibly personal tale of family and the desire to achieve far-fetched goals.

“Gook” does not feature an all-star cast, and there are only about six main characters in the whole film. Ditching the big Hollywood celebrities made it easier to focus on the characters and forget that this story is actually a work of fiction. Plus, the big names were not necessary, because the acting in this film is already flawless.

If you have a weak stomach or think profanity is distasteful, this is not the best film for you. From the first scene, stomach churning violence is shown on screen when Eli is attacked on the side of the road until the end when gunshots are fired and Los Angeles burns in the background. The screenplay also uses a great deal of profanity, but it is not aimed to offend viewers. There is no way to depict the Los Angeles riots or South Los Angeles at this time without the use of vulgar language. Even Kamilla, who is depicted as only 11 years old, uses inappropriate words.

Also, although “Gook” takes place during an intense time in U.S. history, bits of humor were dispersed throughout the film. It is remarkable how Chon found a way to make viewers laugh in the midst of watching violence unfold. The funny moments were unexpected, but they made the mood a bit lighter and the dark events became somewhat easier to digest.

Besides the cast, another aspect that made it easier to become absorbed in the storyline was that the film was in black and white. In today’s digital age, where films are produced with state-of-the-art visual effects and graphics, it’s become rare for a movie to be made completely devoid of color, as the reduction of color created sense of simplicity. The director is making a statement regarding how something like an issue regarding race can be boiled down to right versus wrong, there is no gray area when it comes to race.

Throughout the film, the camera shots were shaky. In a way, it felt like someone was holding a camera the way they would in a YouTube vlog. It was a different approach, but in no way amateurish. It was an interesting touch to the film that made it seem more artistic.

The one piece of criticism for “Gook” is the overuse of music. There were certain scenes where it was needed to clearly set the mood and convey more emotion to the viewer, but there were other times where it felt overused or simply unneeded. Sometimes silence is just as powerful as a song.

The Rodney King verdict is a widely known story, and the police brutality caught on camera 26 years ago continues today. Yet, we forget that the Los Angeles riots were not victimless. Overall, “Gook” was a heart wrenching film that brought the horror individuals faced during the riots to the screen.


Gook was released at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and it can be streamed on Netflix.