YI NING WONG writes — The 1992 Los Angeles riots marked one of the most violent demonstrations of civil unrest in the United States. While the event largely signified the rising tensions between African Americans and LAPD, it also exposed racial contentions between African and Korean Americans.
Director Justin Chon’s Gook gives homage to the 25th anniversary of the riots, taking an intense snapshot of several tragic stories from those affected by the racial feuds.
The title itself is dual-sided; Gook means country in Korean, but is also a derogatory term for people of Asian descent. Gook’s ambiguous meaning is indicative of a choice between perpetuating hatred and violence or coming together as one country and accepting the diverse culture of America.
Chon sheds new light on the riots, diverting the focus from pure historical context to a more intimate and raw depiction. Chon delves into the interpersonal relationships that are reflective of the tensions of the time.
The movie plot explores the relationship dynamic between two Korean American brothers, Eli (Justin Chon) and Daniel (David So), who try to keep their father’s shoe store afloat in the midst of the riots. The story also includes their friend Kamilla (Simone Baker), an 11-year old African American girl who accompanies them through their journey.
The film follows the two brothers’ relationships with Kamilla, Mr. Kim, a Korean liquor store owner, and Kamilla’s older brother, Keith. Each set of relationships represents the intersectional nuances that manifested during the time period.
The relationships collectively document the importance of family and staying together in solidarity of their common struggles with race and identity, navigating and reconciling relationships with the older generation of immigrants, and finding the humanity in enemies that are also trying to survive in a society that seems to have abandoned them.
Gook not only humanizes the historical importance of the riots, but also reminds us of the reality that these problems of racism and racial misunderstandings are still relevant in society today. As protests become more racially heated, such as the recent events in Charlottesville, it is important that Americans start embracing differences and banding together. We are one nation with many cultures.