Actor Justin Chon switched gears from an actor to an actor/director in his debut film Gook. The story takes place the same day as the LA Riots start and the day Rodney King’s verdict was announced as we follow two Korean-American brothers, Eli and Daniel (Justin Chon and David So), who struggle together to keep their father’s shoe store alive in the midst of all the chaos. The audience gets to view that time in history through the perspective of young Korean-Americans , a perspective that hasn’t been shown before in mainstream media.
Eli and Daniel also have an unusual yet intriguing relationship with 11-year old Kamilla (Simone Baker) who ties together two families (Kamilla’s and Eli/Daniel’s) who have completely opposite opinions of one another. The connection is explained throughout the movie with bits and pieces. It’s only until a pivotal moment occurs in the storyline when the two different sides come together to face a devastating and completely preventable incident.
In a way, it’s as if Gook came out at the exact time we need it. As someone who was too young to understand what was happening (to be fair, I was born the year it took place), it seems the saying holds true: history repeats itself. Racism now is showing its ugly head in places during a time we need to be sticking with one another versus going at each other’s throats. Gook reminds us of a dreadful time in history which we unfortunately reflects what we are commonly seeing today (sad to admit, but it’s true). Racial slurs were thrown around like nothing and there were injustices of the court system and what makes it all the more shocking and abhorrent is that we can watch it and see our present in what should’ve been history.
The hopeful light at the end of the tunnel was Kamilla who represented innocence. Innocence in children who are still trying to comprehend what is going on in their life. Innocence in a child who is seeking for answers and solutions rather than adding onto the problem. Innocence as in thinking the world can’t be that bad of a place than it seems. This is the innocence that’s instilled in any child’s head who is growing up in the world we live in. While we do see the through the eyes of Eli and Daniel, in addition, we see through the eyes of Kamilla who is trying to grasp an understanding of what her life is surrounded by.
Chon did a solid job of cutting the bullshit and showing the side many history books forget to include. How often do we see Asian Americans highlighted in history books other than in a history class specifically catered to Asian American studies? How often do Asian Americans’ voices get muffled underneath everyone else’s? All the time.
Chon also raises the question – where are we now? How far have we come and how many steps have we taken back? When do we know when to let go or when we’ve finally crossed the line?