The last time I heard and used the term “stick the landing” was in reference to the release of The Dark Knight Rises which, in my opinion, did accomplish that phrase. Some friends disagreed, citing how the comic adaptation played a little loose and free with the main hero, but I was thankful for such bold and even epic choices in closing out the arc. It’s got to be difficult, hitting the right final beat as a storyteller, adding the correct punctuation for the best possible outcome and understanding. Now, forgive me for almost comparing a Batman movie with the independent Gook, but they do share, for me, high expectations leading into respective endings. Gook doesn’t “stick the landing”. Is that really so bad? Does it sour what came before?
“…unravels like many an open wound – vulnerable, intimate and painful.”
Yes and no to both questions. It depends on the courage and honesty of the movie that came before, which makes the case for Gook all the more confounding. Justin Chon’s black and white feature (a lighting and filmmaking choice both beautiful and thoughtful given the setting), centered on a Korean owned and operated women’s shoe store during the Rodney King L.A. riots, unravels like many an open wound – vulnerable, intimate and painful. This is a family drama above all, which forces any other location and time contrivances to take a backseat to character and dynamics. Pride and past, dreams and rivalry, all clash in brave and true ways, developing what was just another day into an evening of emotional brutality and tragedy.
The young Simone Baker, quite the whipper snap and ball of fire, captures the heartfelt resonance of the film for all to grasp. Her energy is infectious, her eyes, mind and spirit filled with adventure and better days ahead. Amid the chaos of her family life, she stays optimistic if mischievous by circumstance and age. Everyone and everything gravitates around her performance, gaining power from her light. Lots of f bombs are dropped by young adults and others and, while annoying, never feels out of place or forced. This is just how things are and how they express anger and frustration. In fact, I’ll go so far as to suggest that Chon and crew give the f bomb near Shakespearean context, at times satirical and highly dramatic. A credit to the assumingly lived real world experiences the actors projected.
“Pride and past, dreams and rivalry, all clash in brave and true ways…”
The movie doesn’t really leave us on that same note of confidence, though. It builds and builds in one particular direction, only to immediately steer off into another, and at full speed. It’s committed to the path chosen, but perhaps anxious about just how much melodrama it drives into. Like a brick wall, things just stop dead. Still, we’re left with much to consider. Chon goes for Do the Right Thing with the finale but really needed to take a deep breath and pull back a bit. Gook ends up going one step too far, which is really all that is needed when at the edge of a cliff.
Am I left with a sour taste? Is the film now bad? Not really to both questions. Gook, even in its disappointing last shots, stays as insightful and contemplative as it had been before. Maybe it didn’t go the way I wanted it, but that’s not something up for me to decide. We’re left with the outcome of much hard work, sweat and tears, tasked to decipher for ourselves what we felt, not what we would’ve done differently. How did I feel? Not jipped or miffed. Honestly, I had a sense of comfort envelop me upon the conclusion, like a blanket after some trauma. Weights lifted, skies cleared and poetry made some sense. The literal ending may not have been what I was expecting, but the emotional ending rung all too true, and felt all too right. It slipped on the words, but understood the music.
Gook (2017) Writer and Director Justin Chon. Starring Justin Chon, David So, Simone Baker
3.5 out of 5