One of the hottest movies in the indie circuit this year was Justin Chon’s, Gook.
That is not said lightly. Check out the awards:
- Sundance Film Festival 2017 – Audience Award Winner
- CAAM Fest San Francisco – Audience Award Winner & Honorable Mention Jury Award
- Houston Asian American Film Festival – Grand Jury Prize – Best Film
- Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival – Grand Jury Prize – Best Film; Audience Award; Best Director; Best Actress – Simone Baker
- Las Vegas Film Festival – Grand Jury Prize – Best Film
- Chicago Asian American Showcase
- San Diego Asian American Film Festival Spring Edition
- Hawaii International Film Festival Spring Edition
- Seattle International Film Festival
- Independent Film Festival Boston
- Montclair Film Festival
- NEXT Fest
A few months ago, FangirlNation was able to attend the screening of Gook during the 2017 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. This black and white film was a movie and gripping story of just precarious it is to live on the edge.
With the 1997 Los Angeles Riots as an ever present looming background, two Korean-American brothers, Eli (Justin Chon) and Daniel (David So) are struggling. They have to deal with a failing shoe store, daily living, and pursuing unheard of dreams. Even with their troubles, the two brothers nurture a close relationship with a young African-American girl named Kamilla (Simone Barker). With the rapidly violent effects of the riots looming closer to their neighborhood, the three encounter their own drama as they deal with shady dealings, racial tensions, stress, carrying the weight of the past and all the while looking forward to the future.
When the movie was showcase at the Aratani theater during the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, there were echoes of sniffles amidst the heavy reflective atmosphere. Without even speaking, there was a sense that this movie connected with each audience member’s past and present in some way. Whether it was remembering their own parents struggling to defend their stores during the riots or remembering racially charged altercations, this movie was felt deep within each viewers. A movie like this has not been felt within the Asian American community.
Gook is a multi-layered movie that begins with the same narrow view that people see with their own daily lives. A narrow that only reaches a few blocks of their daily commute. This superficial worldview is dramatic in its own little bubble. When outside forces, such as the LA Riots, shatter these bubbless, the results will uncover the raw forces that have been hidden within. It could unleash the simmering frustrations of living paycheck to paycheck, the fear of not knowing how to survive the next week, or test the drive of your aspirations.
The story that plays out across the movie is not “just” a movie that has the LA Riots. There was so much that happened these riots that went beyond looting and destruction of property. It was a trigger that invoked passionate protesting and became a catalyst for needed changes. Changes that are still in transition. What happened in 1997 is not an distinct echo of what happened long ago. It is still being heard loudly.
There is so much deep retrospection that be mulled over but it hardly takes away of how great of a movie Gook is. It is entertaining in that you are spellbound to the movie from the first second as you watch a silhouette of a dancing young young girl in the flames of a burning building. The movie does it all. You laugh with them, you cry, you cringe, you fear, you hope.
It is not only due to Justin Chon’s directorial skills but also to the actors themselves. Especially surprising are the brothers themselves. Justin Chon and David So are known for their humor and silliness. Both have strong presence on Youtube. Justin Chon is even part of the kpop sensation group, BgA. So to see this other range of acting abilities and then to completely forget about their Youtube personas while watching is beyond impressive.
The darling of the whole movie though is Kamilla, played by Simone Barker. Kamilla is not a timid little girl. She is a girl who has to grow a hardened skin from her living situation but she still holds on to her bits of happiness. Through the darkness, she is that beacon of light that draws and people to her. Her bravery, faithfulness and delinquent attitude matures her character beyond years. Her endearing face with round cheeks and upbeat personality hooks your heart in seconds. The young actress, Simone Barker, is definitely on her way to solid stardom.
This movie has to be experienced. If not for the sheer amazing quality of this movie but to support the rise of minorities in Hollywood. Indie movie festivals are one of the best ways to experience diverse film making and should continue to have the support of viewers. It is even more important to show support for movies like Gook, which break so many barriers: An Asian American director and lead actors, African American lead actress pus featuring a story showcasing the brutal life of the streets and the strength of the people who live in those zip codes. During the Q&A at the film festival, Justin Chon brought the cast and crew on stage. It was the most diverse group of skilled people I have seen.
As an cinemaphile of mixed heritage (Asian/Black/White/Others), this movie moved me and made me so proud to see on this screen. This has been a tough work and took a long time to create. So, I definitely everyone to check out this movie.
Keep your night on August 18 or August 25 open and go watch it in theaters!
Theatrical Release Dates
Friday, August 18th , 2017
In Los Angeles, CA at the Arclight Hollywood and Regal LA LIVE Stadium
Friday, August 25, 2017
In New York, NY at the Regal Union Square 14
In Anaheim, CA at the Edwards Anaheim Hills 14
In Berkeley, CA at the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas
In San Francisco, CA at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission
In San Diego, CA at the Edwards Mira Mesa Stadium 18 IMAX & RPX
In Washington DC at the Regal Majestic 20 & IMAX
In Atlanta, GA at the Regal Atlantic Station Stadium 16 & IMAX
In Honolulu, HI at the Regal Theaters Dole Cannery Stadium 18 & IMAX
In Las Vegas, NV at the Regal Village Square Stadium 18
In Portland, OR at the Regal Fox Tower Stadium 10
In Houston, TX at the Edwards Greenway Grand Palace Stadium 24 & RPX
In Seattle, WA at the Regal Meridian 16
In Irvine, CA at the Edwards University Town Center 6