The story of the film “Gook” revolves around 3 central characters. The beginning of the movie introduces us to arguably the most central character to the story, 11-year old African-American girl named Kamilla (Simone Baker). Later, two Korean-American brothers, Eli (Justin Chon), and Daniel (David So) are revealed as having grown up in a neighborhood where they are seen as outsiders and experience racism on a daily basis. The two are now in charge of a struggling shoe store that is left behind to them by their deceased father. Eli and Kamilla are noticeably at the fore-front of the movie while Daniel plays more of a supporting role. The film tackles ideas of what it means to be a family while also depicting a less than stellar moment in history for the Koreans who struggled in similar neighborhoods. The timeline of the movie occurs before and after the Rodney King verdict.
One of the more immediately noticeable aspects of this movie is that it is filmed in black and white, and yet despite this I find myself remembering several aspects of it being in color. It could just be my memory failing me, but I think this is a testament to how well the lighting in this movie is used to infer different colors and help place focus on characters, objects, as well as setting the atmopshere. The use of black and white is immediately effective in its attempt to portray an area that is deprived and the harsh lives that the central characters have had to endure. The contrast also does the same for the opposite halves of the movie, where characters hopes and dreams are revealed and images are filled with more light.
Despite its darker moments, “Gook” also has many comedic moments that help balance it and prevent the mood from getting too far depressing. The black and white lighting has a good way matching this balance.
The performances are very well acted out in the movie. Much of the movie’s heart comes from the character, Kamilla. Her character is the first to be introduced to the audiences as she dances in front of a burning building, the significance of which is not revealed until the end of the movie. Often times the movie follows her as she experiences the world around her, in turn acting as the eyes of the audience. While I can’t say much about her without revealing certain plot elements, she brings an innocence and light-heartedness to the movie that is essential to maintaining it’s atmospheric balance, in contrast with the darker struggle of her counterparts.
Justin Chon and David So are also stand-outs in the movie. I am familiar with the both of them as I have followed their Youtube channels for many years. They are mostly associated with comedy due to their personalities so it is interesting to see them act in more demanding and dramatic roles as well. Justin specifically as Eli is given more to work with due to the stress and situations he endures in the film, while David leans more into his musical and comedic attributes. Both of them do a good job in their respective roles and shine in comedic areas of the film. It’s in these moments where they’re experience shows the most.
I’d also like to add that Justin was in a previous movie brought to HIFF, Seoul Searching, a teen movie in the vein of “The Breakfast Club”, in which he also had a dramatic arc. It’s nice to see him growing into more mature roles as he is clearly capable of handling them.
While I don’t want to give away the story, I will say that it does a good job of building up the characters, their relationships with one another, as well as the struggle they endure every day. Much of the movie is meant to make the audience feel the connection between them, and waits until the latter parts where the emotional gut punches occur. It’s definitely worth watching.