West 32nd

by James McNally on November 16, 2008

in Film Festivals,Reel Asian

West 32nd

West 32nd (Director: Michael Kang): John Cho (Harold from Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle) plays John Kim, an ambi­tious young lawyer who offers to rep­resent a Korean teen­ager accused of a gang-related murder in New York’s Koreatown. His firm wants to raise its pro­file and he feels by doing this pro bono work, he can advance his career as well. His own Korean back­ground helps con­vince the boy’s family to sign on, but in reality, he doesn’t even speak the language.

Before he knows it, he’s caught up in an under­world he didn’t even know existed. He meets Mike (Jun Sung Kim), a mid-level gang­ster trying to move up in the hier­archy, and the two quickly recog­nize each other’s ambi­tion and begin an uneasy cooper­a­tion. But John is soon over his head in a cul­ture he doesn’t really under­stand, and before long, there are more dead bodies and he’s no closer to win­ning his case. By the end of the film, any hint of altruism in John’s offer to help is peeled away to reveal that he’s really not that dif­ferent from the gang­sters he’s trying to bring down.

Though Cho is effective as John Kim, it was Jun Sung Kim’s char­acter Mike Juhn who really lit up the screen for me. Unfortunately, the female char­ac­ters seemed largely dec­or­ative, but that seems to be part and parcel of the tra­di­tional Korean cul­ture that runs these crim­inal organ­iz­a­tions. The loc­a­tions in Manhattan and in Flushing, Queens added to the gritty realism of the film, and Kang used many actual Korean-American den­izens of the neigh­bour­hoods to fur­ther boost the authen­ti­city factor.

Kang has made a slick and effective thriller that, while not par­tic­u­larly ori­ginal, pays homage to both the American gang­ster films of the 70s and the more recent wave of Korean crime films. His co-writer is Edmund Lee, a former Village Voice reporter who spent years thor­oughly researching gangs and organ­ized crime in New York’s Korean com­munity. As Kang described the pro­ject, he started out trying to make a Korean-American ver­sion of The Departed and ended up with some­thing more like Mean Streets.

Here is the Q&A with dir­ector Michael Kang from after the screening (con­tains pos­sible spoilers):

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Duration: 14:00

Official site of the film
Director’s blog

7/10(7/10)

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