Always do the right thing. Or don’t.
Eli (Justin Chon) and Daniel (David So), two Korean American brothers who own a struggling women’s shoe store, have an unlikely friendship with 11-year-old Kamilla (Simone Baker). On the first day of the 1992 L.A. riots, the trio must defend the store while contemplating the meaning of family and thinking about personal dreams and the future.
It’s really hard to watch Gook without thinking of two things: 1) Do the Right Thing, which it’s style is so clearly reminiscent of, and 2) 21 & Over, the raunchy bro comedy from a few years ago starring Justin Chon, the writer, director and star of Gook. Why the latter? Well, because that movie, while entirely forgettable, stupid, unfunny, and oh yeah, really bad, also had me wondering about the two other dudes in that cast, Miles Teller and Skylar Astin.
Once again, “why?,” you may ask? Well, because both of them have gone on to do far different things from one another; while they’ve both stayed hunky and handsome, Astin’s career has mostly stayed stuck in-neutral, with him showing up as the possible funny guy in stuff, whereas with Teller, he’s been doing all that he can to be taken more seriously and make one of his many dramatic-projects a hit (sadly, it hasn’t worked out). But then, there’s Chon who, after that movie, seemed to not really be anywhere but instead, saving up, doing all that he could to make this little flick of his that is way different and far more interesting than anything he’s done in the past.
Does that mean it’s a reckoning of sorts? Not really. But it’s a sign that his career is in the right direction and hopefully, far, far away from stupid frat-bro comedies.
But like I said before, Gook is definitely a movie that loans a lot of its style-points to Spike Lee; there’s a dream-like, sort of impressionistic tone that feels like it came from Fellini, but dipped in a much more realer, grittier world. It’s an interesting direction from Chon, who could have easily kept things simple with just telling this story, in a conventional manner, but it shows that he’s got way more on his mind and up his sleeve, than just letting the budget keep him down. After all, for a movie that literally takes place at three different locations, with only a few blocks between them, it never feels claustrophobic, or as if Chon ran out of money and was just cutting corners.
In fact, the smallness of it all felt refreshing. It not only helps us grow closer to these characters, but get to know and understand the world in which they live in, the political-climate at the time, and why their stories, are being told exactly. Chon’s ambitions may reach farther than he’s able to grab, but the guy’s got gutso and it’s a solid offering on his end, not forgetting to build characters in every which way that he can, but also still feel the outside world of L.A. in the summer of ’92, just when everything was about to go to s**t.
As if we needed another movie about the Rodney King riots, right?
Well, that’s why Gook‘s a little bit different. It stays small and subtle, even when it seems to want to reach out a bit further. It can’t quite reach its objectives like it wants, but it comes pretty close and Chon, when he’s not showing the world that he knows how to work a camera, gives us a raw and sad performance of another guy living in America, trying to get by, and trying not to be killed due to the way that he looks, where he comes from, or how he speaks. The central message of Gook is a simple one: Love one another, regardless of race, gender, or beliefs. We’re all minorities, in a way, and we’re much stronger together, than we are a part.
It’s a bit hokey, but the movie has such a lovely feel to it, it’s hard to really hate on it. Also, Simone Baker as Kamilla is the absolute light and delight of the movie that every chance she gets to be up on the screen, the movie somehow gets better. Chon seems to know this and uses her not just as the heart and soul of Gook, but as the central message to which we can all learn something from: Be nice to one another, as they’re are still young ones out there who look up to us and learn from us, each and every day.
Pretty timely, if I don’t say so myself.
Consensus: Despite what seems to be a very small and limited-budget, Gook presents a smart, funny, and sometimes sad snapshot into the lives of some interesting folks who still feel relevant today.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Samuel Goldwyn Films