On 29 April 1992 in South Central Los Angeles a trial jury acquitted four LAPD officers after they were captured on video beating Rodney King during an arrest. It sparked six days of riots which caused 63 deaths, $1 billion of property damage and began a new conversation on race relations in America. This one event may have been the spark which ignited the fire but tensions were already at breaking point. Whilst the mainstream media largely approached the race angle as a black versus white confrontation, it was the Korean-American community who suffered the most. Justin Chon’s new film Gook looks at bigotry through the eyes of two Korean-American friends.
After their father was killed in a robbery, Eli (Justin Chon) and Daniel (David So) struggle to keep his shoe store going in a largely African-American neighbourhood. They are on the receiving end of racism on a daily basis, in terms of physical violence, threats and vandalism. They have an unlikely friendship with a young black girl (Simone Baker), who lives with her older sister (Kirlew ‘bliss’ Vilbon) and brother (Curtiss Cook Jr.). The latter is still torn up by anger and rage following the loss of their mother.
Shot in black and white, Gook is a raw and exhilarating piece of film-making. The way in which Chon approaches the subject makes it feel exhilaratingly and depressingly real. This is an individual story told to the backdrop of mayhem and carnage taking place a few miles down the road. The acting is superb and Baker, who in many ways has the pivotal role, is the glue which holds everything together. Gook is fresh and vibrant. A drama centred around a historical event. The echoes of which are still prevalent today.
Gook is out in cinemas from 16 March.