In the time after completing a course and preparing for work on the site and my Korean class I saw two films: Gook by Justin Chon and The Battleship Island (군함도) by Ryoo Seung Wan. I figured I’d give my two cents—with little scholarly influence. I’ll save that for my scholarly blog (coming soon!).
Gook (released August 18, 2017) depicts a typical day in the life of two Korean-American brothers who own a struggling women’s shoe store and entertain their 11-year-old Black family friend that is turned upside down by the 1992 LA riots after the Rodney King verdict. Although there is distance from the riots in South Central (where my family resided during the riots) and no mention of tension between Black and Korean Americans due to the death of Latasha Harlins by Du Soon Ja, it tells a beautiful (and hilarious, thanks to David So) story of the camaraderie and tensions between various ethnic groups that juxtaposes the usual LA riots narrative that only deals with Black citizens and White cops. It also adds a perspective that is commonly left out: the Asian American one. What captured my heart the most was the teaching of the real meaning of gook (국), country, and how that related to the connection of two families seemingly distant from one another.
The Battleship Island (군함도, released August 4, 2017), tells the story of an attempted prison break from a forced coal-mining labor camp on Hashima Island during the Japanese occupation-era. Although the film is not all true (based on true accounts, though), it showcases the little known history of Hashima Island and the only recently discussed stories of comfort women in sexual slavery. The film forces all to look at the atrocities of many (not only those of Japanese descent) during this particular wartime, but also displays hope, camaraderie, and love in order to make it out.
What I love about both films
First off, I am a history buff. I enjoy learning and understanding how history influences the present. Another reason is influenced by two quotes:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
— George Santayana, philosopher and novelist
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
— Dr. Maya Angelou, writer and activist
Both films display why we continue to see war films—especially those set during World War II—films about slavery in the United States, and films that depict little known or publicized histories (sometimes as biopics). I believe that Gook and The Battleship Island are wonderful examples of why films like them should be made.
Secondly, I love how both films dealt with the themes of displacement and home. Gook does this through its depiction of family and legacy from both immigrant and native perspectives in a store that serves as home for both but is being threatened by chaos caused by the riots. There is no protection of these youths’ dreams and futures outside of the little they can salvage with the help of one parental figure (Mr. Kim) and Jesus because of no police protection. The Battleship Island does this through actual displacement (rather, isolation) and the will to go on and fight because of a desire to return home. This desire bands many would-be strangers together for that one common goal: home.
All that said, I definitely recommend both films as I was left speechless at the endings. See them in theatres while you still can!
Stay legit, y’all!