For the last few years, Koreatown, Los Angeles has been worming its way into popular, mainstream culture. The food, the nightlife and the grind, everything is being absorbed into popular media outlets at a faster and faster pace. With this steady diffusion of our unique blend of Korean and American culture, was something we were sorely lacking, a cohesive, unified voice.
Why do I bring up this idea of voice right now? Well, I think, we may have found it. Specifically, we’ve found a film that really does capture the Korean American experience. I won’t sit here and say it will win an Oscar. I won’t tell you that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I will say, you need to watch it and I can say that, knowing you won’t hate me for making the recommendation.
On the surface, the movie is a disjointed tale that explores the intermingling of five friends’ (Danny, Robby, Peter, Sunny and Jason) lives. There are a couple of major plot points that the film explores which are the failing health of Sunny’s father who has Alzheimer’s, and Jason’s sinking of his family’s corporate empire. In between we are offered glimpses into Robby, Peter and Danny’s lives, but the central and most immediate conflict is Jason’s story. That’s not to say that they didn’t have real impact emotionally. I can honestly say that one of the most poignant scenes comes from the crew’s meathead character (Peter) getting bailed out by his brother (Daniel Dae Kim). I was never a Kim fan, but dare I say this was one of his greatest performances. No, seriously. Understated, with gravitas, and full of the depth that isn’t present in a police procedural drama like his current prime time project, Hawaii Five-0. The film however, is not without its growing pains, and one of the most painful to watch was the character of Mindy, who is the cousin of one of the main characters, Jason. Fortunately, we aren’t subjected to her performance for too long, just long enough to wish the character was relegated to a more minor role.
The film started strong with a greasy, hopelessly awkward Korean body scrubbing masseuse who practices his trade craft in the nude and from there it’s a quick combination of one two punches that keep you laughing for the intro. The unappealing chubby rubdown professional aside, Danny really shows off his comedic prowess and it is clear that he’s honed his technique since we’ve seen the webseries. That however, didn’t really surprise me. What did surprise me was the dramatic writing that took the driver’s seat in the second half of the film. At first, I didn’t know what to make of it. The KTown Cowboys? Flexing their dramatic muscle? Weirdly, it worked. I was invested in Peter’s story of finding his way. I loved Robby’s quirky family and his father, played by none other than Eric Roberts. And the deteriorating condition of Sunny’s father? Forget about it. Having lost my father to cancer, I know, all too well, the story that unfolded before me. It was all great and I found myself rooting for all these guys.
So back to what I was saying about voice. So what is the voice of KTown? I think the crew really did what they set out to do. Show us that there are Asians out there that aren’t just nerds, or import models or even entitled pretty boys. Not that I’m saying all that doesn’t exist, but I think the film does a good job of weaving a complex tapestry and I appreciate that. While the storytelling could probably use a little bit of spit and polish, it wasn’t too hard to follow and I was genuinely drawn into the story. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you live in a world full of flicks like Olympus Has Fallen, it is refreshing to see an Asian that isn’t stroking his wispy facial hair hellbent on world domination.
By the end of the film, the capacity audience of 850, myself included, felt better for having watched it. Is it the next Better Luck Tomorrow? Danny Cho, doesn’t think so, and doesn’t appreciate the comparison, “The films are two different genres. It’s hard to compare the two. I don’t know if I could make any comparisons really except that there were a lot of Chinos in both films.” But he knows he’s come far since the KTown Cowboys webisodes phase which he still says he watches when he wants to torture himself, “I cringe. I want to punch myself in the face a lot.”
Unfortunately, the crew is still hammering out the details on distribution so no news to report as of yet. They are having discussions now, but it could be awhile. There are plans for a Korean release too, but according to Danny, they’re “searching for the perfect translator right now. A LOT of searching.” What you can do is still hit the final showing of the film during its run for the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. One showing is left, 9:15 PM at the CGV Cinemas in Koreatown, this Wednesday, April 29th. Tickets are available from the LAPFF site, here.
Get out there, support the film. You won’t regret it.
UPDATE: The film was released and is currently on a limited theatrical run in Los Angeles (CGV Cinemas), San Francisco (AMC Metreon 16), New York (AMC Empire 25), and Virginia (Cinema Arts Theater). For more information check the Ktown Cowboys Facebook Fanpage!