A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Gook, while named after a racial slur for East/Southeast-Asian people, is a powerful black-and-white drama about the 1992 LA riots. Written, directed by, and starring Justin Chon, the movie explores the racism, tensions, and violence of the events and their era without being directly about the riots themselves. Expect nonstop strong language, including hundreds of uses of "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," and so on, as well as uses of the titular slur. Violence includes two main characters -- Korean-American brothers -- being "jumped," usually by getting kicked repeatedly in a way that leaves them bloody and bruised. A character seems intent on killing the brothers, even planning to burn them out of their shoe store, but is stopped at the last minute. A character is killed in an accidental shooting; the sequence in which others try to save that character's life is disturbing and emotional. Still, despite the language and violence, Gook should prompt valuable conversations about the context of the riots and what led to them.
What's the story?
GOOK takes place on the eve of the 1992 LA riots in the predominantly African-American Los Angeles neighborhood of Paramount, where Korean-American brothers Eli (Justin Chon) and Daniel (David So) run their family shoe store. Eli has just scored a box of popular sneakers "off a truck" and hopes that selling them will help them make rent. But Daniel doesn't care about the store and instead plans to cut a demo tape in hopes of becoming an R&B singer. The brothers allow Kamilla (Simone Baker), an 11-year-old neighborhood girl, to hang out at the store, occasionally helping them out. But as the riots begin in earnest, the brothers are targeted by Kamilla's older brother, Keith (Curtiss Cook Jr.), who blames the Korean shop owners for his mother's death.
Is it any good?
Writer-director-star Chon's black-and-white drama is a powerful exploration of racial tension, family duty, and the American dream in the wake of the LA riots. It's also a fascinating homage to Do the Right Thing and Clerks. Like those two classic indie movies, Gook doesn't have a complicated or fast-paced plot. Rather, it's a slice-of-life story set against the backdrop of extraordinary times: the 1992 Rodney King verdict (when four police officers were acquitted of any wrongdoing) and the ensuing looting, anger, and violence of the riots. Eli and Daniel aren't racially insensitive like suspicious elder Korean store owner Mr. Kim (Sang Chon, who happens to be Justin's father), who stands behind a huge wall of bullet-proof glass and considers his customers possible thieves, even children. By contrast, the brothers are called "homie" by their African-American friends -- but that doesn't prevent them from getting jumped repeatedly by armed Mexican and African-American crews.
Chon lingers on small moments of sweetness between Eli, Daniel, and young, orphaned Kamilla, who would rather spend her time with the shopkeepers than with her sullen, hot-tempered brother, who isn't above casual violence or looting. Kamilla is half Korean, half black, and that fact means there's unresolved tension between the brothers and Kamilla's older siblings. In one of the movie's loveliest scenes, Kamilla dances with the brothers and is utterly herself. Curious and precocious, Kamilla (and Baker's performance) is a highlight of the film, which can be dark and upsetting. She's curious about the Korean language ("What does 'gook' mean?" she asks Eli after seeing the word spray-painted on his white car), about her mother (the brothers remember her), and about what it means to be family. Despite the movie's tough themes and a couple of overly upsetting narrative turns, there's also humor and hope, even in the darkest of times.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Gook. Is it realistic? Does racially motivated violence impact audiences differently? What about violence involving a child?
Do you think racism and race relations have changed since this depiction of 1992? If so, how?
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