O n 29 April, 1992 four Los Angeles police officers were controversially acquitted of charges in the brutal assault of Rodney King. Where community grief became apparent, impending frustration over the prospect of further police brutality and discriminatory treatment of the African-American community took its toll and boiled over on the streets.

Gook is a film written and directed by Twilight alumni Justin Chon, with the riots serving as a backdrop for a well-crafted, character-driven study of an unlikely relationship which develops during turbulent political times.

Korean-American brothers Eli (Chon) and Daniel (David So) keep their late father’s shoe store afloat in Paramount, just north of the city, where there are simmering tensions between the small Korean community and the predominately African-American denizens. While Eli grinds through time to keep their heads above water, Daniel dreams of becoming an R B star and gives away too many discounts, much to Eli’s annoyance.

An unofficial employee is the skateboarding eleven-year-old African-American girl, Kamilia (Simone Baker), who finds refuge in the brothers’ company. This precocious latchkey customer comes with her own family troubles, in particular a hot-headed brother called Keith (Curtiss Cook Jr).

Shot in evocative black-and-white, the film offers a shaky, realistic view of this West Coast metropolis that feels more raw and humane than it does obviously cinematic. The brothers treat Kamilia like a young sibling, with one particular scene set in a car wash reminiscent of an ordinary errand turned into adventure seen through the eyes of a child. Their familial bond is touching and genuine and the film refuses to portray Eli as a saviour to this girl’s problems. Though you are forced to question how the brothers benefit from being semi-babysitters in this respect.

The film does a particularly good job of exploring racism and bigotry in both communities without focusing on who has it worse. The brothers face a continuous wave of casual racism and brutal beatings as if a part of routine, with stereotypes of emasculated Asian men at the heart of these taunts. A subplot charts Kamilia’s encounters with a bitter, Korean-only speaking liquor store owner who alludes to anti-blackness in East Asian communities and is reminiscent of the Latasha Harlins case in which a Korean store owner shot an unarmed black teenager, believed to be one of the triggering factors of the riots.

LA smokes in the distance and the images of urban warfare flash on TV sets. An uncomfortable feeling of inevitable heartbreak draws close as the film nears its end, but before that, a there are a few revelations along the way. It’s uneven at times, especially when it drops backstory into the dialogue, but the film is a refreshing take into this important cultural even. The Korean-American perspective is anchored by strong characters, earning it a comparison to Spike Lee’s seminal East Coast counterpart, Do the Right Thing .

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March 17, 2018 at 01:02PM