Pusan Day 3… 4… 3.5…. Time Is No Longer A Factor
In lieu of a daily report today, here is a review of the film from the front page of the Pusan Daily report by The Hollywood Reporter. Tonight is our big night with the official “guest visit” (Q&A). John Cho finally made it to Korea last night. Another wonderful night of dancing, drinking, singing and soju. Today, Grace Park has to leave. I have much to report on with the big CJ party last night, but things are getting more hectic. I’ll try to hit the blog later today.
From Hollywood Reporter:
Bottom Line: Engrossing and economical crime drama energized by a fresh perspective.
By Elizabeth Kerr
Oct 7, 2007
Pusan International Film Festival
BUSAN, South Korea — For all intents and purposes, “West 32nd” is the
kind of urban crime drama that has played out on screens for years. Few
have never seen a gangland thriller, and Korea has coasted on an
industry of these kinds of films for many years. What separates Michael
Kang’s second feature from the rest, however, is the location: New
York’s shady Koreatown. By transplanting the room salons and
hierarchies to Queens, Kang has created a film that’s both fresh and
“West 32nd” has enough to make it appealing to both general and niche
festivals, but the familiarity of the narrative could make it a
moderate success on the art house circuit overseas, the same market
that supported “Infernal Affairs” and many of Kitano Takeshi’s films.
John (John Cho) is an ambitious junior defense lawyer fresh out the
public defender’s office. He pursues the case of a 14-year-old who
allegedly killed a prominent gangster, Jin-Ho (Korean actor Jeong
Jun-Ho). While sniffing around for details, he meets up-and-coming foot
soldier Mike (the extremely charismatic Jun Kim), who’s just as
ambitious as John is.
Between them is the killer’s sister, Lila (Grace Park, “Battlestar
Galactica”), who went to school with Mike. Needless to say, John and
Mike’s worlds clash, setting them up for some fresh doses of reality
that ends in a detente of sorts.
makes “West 32nd” stand out is its peek into the Korean diaspora’s
criminal subculture, one that is overshadowed by Triads and Yakuza.
While that’s novel in itself — at least for overseas audiences — Kang
and writer Edmund Lee do an effective job of creating characters that
are equally out of place in their chosen worlds.
John is a pitch-perfect illustration of a Korean-American who can’t
find a way into the affluent Manhattan life he so craves. He doesn’t
speak the language but resorts to using his “Asian advantage” to get
there. Mike is too American for his colleagues and bosses — he’s
perceived as a disrespectful cowboy — and eventually turns to violence
to prove his Korean-ness and move up the ranks. Lila is the good
daughter that puts family first, though she’s not above working outside
the system to protect it.
Kang, whose last film was the comedic coming-of-age comedy “The Motel,”
coaxes believable and, for some, recognizable performances from his
leads, and each does a superb job of crystallizing the experience of
simultaneously being labeled foreign and domestic.
The film also offers a look at intra-Asian dynamics that are easily
overlooked by English-speaking audiences and filmmakers in favor of
more easily identifiable sources of urban friction (Spike Lee’s “Do the
Right Thing” springs to mind).
Cinematographer Simon Cuoll’s neon-pierced nighttime landscapes
efficiently realize the dark corners Mike and his crew live in and that
John becomes enamored with. It’s not a new story, but the players are,
and that gives the film its edge.