Gook

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Gook Movie Poster Image
Poignant, powerful black-and-white drama set amid '92 riots.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 94 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Thought-provoking messages about seeing the individual rather than just the person's race, about the complicated historical context of Korean shopkeepers in African-American neighborhoods, and about how gun violence is perpetuated from a place of anger and misunderstanding and is dangerous to all involved.

Positive role models & representations

Eli is dedicated to his family store and is kind and big brother-ish to Kamilla, protecting and advising her whenever he can. Kamilla is young but courageous. She just wants to belong to a family. Daniel is a dreamer who hopes for a better future where he can sing and not be tied to his present situation. Diverse cast.

Violence

Two men are each beaten up more than once. Dramatized scenes of the LA riots, in which people are shown looting, beating up others, and setting fire to stores. A shopkeeper pulls a gun on and hits a young customer he believes stole from him. Young men wield guns and point them at intended victims but don't shoot them (they do beat them). A child steals her brother's gun. A shooting accident leaves a character dead.  

Sex

An African-American woman asks a shopkeeper if he's "ever gotten with a black girl" as a means of procuring a discount.

Language

Nearly every sentence is peppered with strong language (occasionally said by an 11-year-old character), including countless uses of "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," "p---y," "bitch," "bastard," and, of course, the derogative racial slur "gook." A version of the "N" word is also used multiple times, exclusively by African-American characters.

Consumerism

The shoe store owner buys a box of popular sneakers (possibly stolen) to resell to his customers, and the shoes remain a key part of the plot, though they're never identified by a specific brand. A couple of cars are briefly glimpsed, including Volkswagen and Nissan.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Adults drink 40s, and a young girl tries to steal a sip but is told not to drink it. Several scenes take place in a liquor/convenience store. Adults smoke cigarettes.

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.

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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?

  • The movie has drawn comparisons to both Do the Right Thing and Clerks. Why do you think that is? If you've seen all of the films, what do you think Gook has in common with the other two?

  • Are there any role models in the movie? If so, what are their character strengths?

  • Do you think racism and race relations have changed since this depiction of 1992? If so, how?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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