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West 32nd takes the cameras inside New York's gritty Korean underworld. After hustling his way onto a homicide case, attorney John Kim (John Cho, this summer's blockbuster Star Trek, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Better Luck Tomorrow) finds himself thrust into a sordid world of hard realities and moral compromises after he is taken under the wing of a ruthless Korean gangster who knows no limits.
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I learned at the Film Festivals that this movie was co-written by Edmund Lee when he was at "The Village Voice." You can tell as there are details in the movie that hint at investigative journalism.
It was refreshing to see John Cho and Grace Park in roles outside of what they might be best known for, namely: "Sulu" in the recent Star Trek, "Harold" in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (Unrated Extended Edition), and "Sharon Valerii" in Battlestar Galactica: The Plan. For those of you who follow Korean dramas, Jung Joon-Ho (Last Scandal) makes a cameo appearance. I'd never seen him before but I can see why he's a popular star in Korea as he was very charismatic.
Some parts of the movie were poignant for me as a second generation son of parents from Korea. The style of the movie reminds me of 70's films like Dog Day Afternoon [Blu-ray] but set in present day New York, with a cultural twist. I won't leave any spoilers here but if you like gangster films and can stomach some violence, you'll like "West 32nd." (btw, it's all spoken English with a few parts in Korean with English subtitles)
I got to know about W32nd by a friend from New York.
The movie gives a fascinating insight about Koreans in New York, different from the usual known hard working and studying Koreans with the 'good' behaviour, or at least not disturbing society. Some of the scenes are recognizable and funny.
The American-Korean production is interesting too and I look forward to Michael Kang's next movie.
I wished I liked this movie because it has such a great concept/story; plus, I like to support independent movies. However, the movie is weak. The acting for the most part appears a bit stiff, but then again maybe that has something to do with the direction or the writing. I wish John Cho's character would be more dramatic. For instance, as he goes deeper into the underworld of K-Town, his response to the environment ought to be a little stronger. In the movie, the character seems a bit too reserved. Also, the gangsters are simply not intimidating enough.
Basically, a movie like West 32nd should be a lot more gritty. The film should make one feel dirty after watching it. Unfortunately, this picture does not have that kind of effect and it will easily be forgotten by most viewers.
I only hope someone else revisits this kind of story/setting and makes a better movie.
The film begins with John Kim (John Cho), an upwardly mobile young lawyer assigned to work a pro bono case defending a teenager who is accused of murder of the owner of a Hostess Club in New York's Korean district. Kim was selected by his law firm in the hopes of generating good will and future business with New York's Korean community. Once inside this closed society, however, Kim is forced to confront the fact that although he is racially Korean, he is not ethnically Korean and is more at home sipping cocktails with his lawyer friends than he is in societies where Korean is spoken and the culture is maintained.
Kim befriends a gangster, Mike Juhn, who he sees as someone not so different from himself, and maybe what Kim might have become if he had been raised with closer ties to Korea. Juhn introduces Kim to the seedier elements of the society, and Kim becomes seduced by the danger and excitement of the criminal world. Meanwhile, his client's older sister Lili (Grace Park) tries to keep Kim on task even offering some hope of future romance, but Lili seems to have some hidden agenda as well.
Much of the appeal for "West 32nd" comes from the pairing of its two lead actors, John Cho (Harold from Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle as well as Hiraru Sulu from Star Trek) and Grace Park (Boomer from Battlestar Galactica). When I was watching the film I was struck by how rare it is to see an Asian/Asian romance in an American film. Normally, Grace Park would be paired up with some white guy, and John Cho would be the "sexless Asian male" that is found in his other performances. While I see Asian/Asian pairings all the time in Asian films, this is one of the few times I have seen two Asian actors flirting in English.
The ethnicity issues were also interesting to see confronted, as that is something I experience in my own life. My wife is Japanese, and she has a hard time with Asian Americans who call themselves "Japanese" but cannot speak the language and know little about the culture and customs. To her they are simply Americans, regardless of skin color and eye shape. This is the same situation John Kim is forced to confront when he meets actual Koreans and can not even speak to them without an interpreter.
There are some weaknesses to "West 32nd." I like John Cho, but he is not the most engaging leading actor for this kind of drama, and his chemistry with Grace Park is a little flat. I would have liked to have seen Grace Park more (which goes without saying, seeing as she is one of the most beautiful women on the planet) but her character is more of a supporting player than in the main story.
"West 32nd" is a film with definite intentions, to tell a story of race-relations and ethnicity within a single community carefully hidden within a crime drama. I though I saw some influences from the Korean film Green Fish, especially with the seduction to the criminal world. Visually, the film is beautiful, and while the plot becomes a bit didactic in points, overall I think director Kang managed to pull it off with style.