Justin Chon and David So took to Reddit to open an “Ask Me Anything (AMA)” thread to answer fan questions about their film “Gook,” set during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
The film, directed and acted in by Chon, follows the friendship between two Korean American brothers and a young African American girl.
Here are five things we learned about the film during their AMA:
How Chon’s writing and acting as an Asian American has changed over the years:
Chon: “My perspective on things have changed a lot over the years. Earlier on, I fell in love with acting. But over the last 16 years I started to realize my options as an Asian American actor were very limited. So I’ve come to realize that creating my own films in addition to the more mainstream work I do is very important in changing that reality. I’m just trying to do my part to slowly change the way we are represented in film/television.”
How So’s experience behind a film camera differs from being behind a camera for his YouTube channel:
So: “It’s WAY different. A real film set is nothing like a YouTube production or sketch. Time, money, crew, vision, complications, script, acting, you name it, the level of artistry is NOT THE SAME. Filmmaking isn’t like [a] 6-second Vine clip or a 3-minute sketch, you know? It was difficult and way beyond anything I’ve ever been involved with.
My character in the film was catered towards me and a lot of what I grew up with. There are personal stories and experiences from my life that you’ll see that we pick and chose from and a lot of situational improv that we did!”
How the two think Asian and black communities can overcome bias and distrust over the L.A. riots:
So: “Two communities that hurt in two different ways is hard to bridge together. We actually highlight this in the film with the relationship between two of the characters. When people of different communities hurt and different ways it’s hard to empathize with each other’s struggles. Immigrants have a hard time understanding the black community, [and] the black community [has] a hard time understanding Asian immigrants. At the end of the day education and reaching out is the best way to do it. I see it in my small community in Sacramento and even with my parents’ small business in Sacramento. We own an African American beauty supply store and we have been a staple in the community for 28 years. It’s going to take the youth who can see both sides of each community to bridge that gap.”
How growing up in Orange County (specifically Irvine) influenced Chon as an actor/director:
Chon: “Growing up in Orange County during the ’80s was weird. I would live in the safest suburb in the nation but on weekends go help my dad at the swap meet. I would go with my dad to Compton to work in the hood with him. It was a very bipolar existence. I think it has influenced me to be more well-rounded. If you’ve followed my evolution from idiot to human you know I’ve worked out a lot of my issues through my art. The biggest thing growing up in Orange County has taught me has been to have empathy for everyone rich, poor, Mexican, Asian.”
How they came up with the title “Gook”:
Chon: “The title of the film wasn’t meant to be for shock factor. I really wanted people to understand where that word comes from. ‘Gook’ in Korea means country (or soup) and was made a racial slur during the Korean War, which then carried over to the Vietnam War. It’s our word. If I didn’t address the title in the film, I think it would be very distasteful. But there is a pivotal scene where the little girl asks what it means.”
The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival (where it won an Audience Award) and Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, is set to hit theaters on August 18, 2017.