Last night, my husband and I had the pleasure of watching Justin Chon’s latest film, Gook. An independent film that is currently screening in smaller theaters across the country, Gook takes place during the first day of the 1992 L.A. riots. Since 2017 marks the twenty five year anniversary of the riots, Gook is an important, timely film that centers on a young girl, Kamilla, and her friendship with two Korean American brothers, Eli and Daniel.
As an Ethnic Studies scholar, inter-ethnic and inter-racial conversations are very important to me. When the riots happened, I was in high school. The images of the burning buildings, the Korean shop owners protecting their stores with guns, the violence, and looting still burn in my memory. Other than shock and odd fascination, I cannot recall any substantive reactions from my sixteen year-old self. I sort of knew about Korean/Black racial tensions at the time. It would be years until I would be in grad school and re-visit the riots and what they continue to mean to the country’s history of race relations.
This post is not meant to be a film review. Rather, I’d like to simply urge you to watch it at your local theater. Justin Chon does a great job at capturing the relationship between these characters, and how their interactions are reflected in the larger backdrop of the riots and race relations in Los Angeles. (Confession: After seeing Chon’s directorial debut in Man Up, I had serious doubts about Gook. Luckily, reading various reviews helped me overcome those ill feelings.) Simone Baker, the film’s lead, is fantastic as Kamilla. David So, who is most notable for his comedy, also treats us to a commanding and touching performance. For your reference, feel free to peruse the videos below for more on Gook.
Joanne L. Rondilla, Ph.D.
South San Francisco, CA
Justin Chon Interview on BUILD Series
Justin Chon Interview on Kore Asian Media
Gook Cast Interview