If Michael Mann were Korean-American and didn't have much money to make a movie...
Jul 7, 2012
Review by Stephen Murray
Rated a Very Helpful Review
User Rating: Excellent
Pros:look, Jun, location ambiance
Cons:the client is not a speaking part, sometimes generic
The Bottom Line: Korean-American neo-noir thriller with John Cho, who is eclipsed by Jun Seong-Kim
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Recommend this product?
I enjoy the Harold and Kumar stoner movies and watched “West 32nd” (2007) primarily to see Korean-born, Berkeley-alumnus John Cho (Harold in the H&K movies) in a dramatic role. He plays John Kim, a token minority lawyer trying to make partner. He has found a pro bono case defending Kevin Lee, a 14-year-old Korean accused of murdering the manager of an upscale Korean establishment (“salon room” supplier) in the two-block stretch of West 32ndStreet in Manhattan where Korean restaurants and other businesses are concentrated (not far south of the Empire State Building).
The boy’s sister, Lila (Grace Park) translates for John, who speaks only very rudimentary Korean, first with her mother and then with the premier hostess from the club, Suki (Jane Kim), who was the slain mobster’s moll.
Cho’s character is supposed to be uncomfortable and over his head, which is not much of a stretch from his Harold character as a conventional achievement-oriented second-generation member. It’s difficult to tell whether it is the actor John or the character John who is a bit stiff, but game.
An aspiring Mike Juhn (Jun Seong-Kim) sort of adopts John, sort of plays John, sometimes uses John’s respectability and professional status for his own purposes. Kim is a charismatic criminal, in a long tradition of Scarfaces et al. The imperiled bad girl trying to help is also in a long, long tradition. Few of those characters live to the final credits, and those who do are often physically scarred. These archetypes occur in Korean crime movies as in American and Hong Kong ones. (The $2.5 million budget was put up by Korean studio CJ Entertainment.)
The Korean stretch of West 32ndlooks more like the Hong Kong of Johnnie To movies than, say, Martin Scorsese New York movies. In particular, the opening of the movie has some extended tracking shots like those To favors. The last time I was in Manhattan, I stayed nearby and passed through Koreatown at night several times and am pretty sure the movie saturated the colors.
The action scenes are impressive, especially for something shot on location in Manhattan on a low budget and the visual compositions are frequently impressive (director Michael Kang had strong work from cinematographer Simon Coull).
All of the characters, except for Mrs. Lee, use dubious means to advance their interests, careers, etc. John goes far outside the law/legal ethics, though Mike goes much, much farther.
I found the conversation between writer/director Michael Kang and co-writer Edmund Lee, “Getting Naked with Mike and Ed”, was very interesting about the process and having to scale back their ambitions even stretching every dollar of the movie’s budget. I was also interested by Kang’s explanation of what he intended and why he cut six scenes, all of which were well done… and would have impeded the flow of the movie. There’s alsoa gag reel, a music video of Heather Park singing for the film’s theme “Leave Me to Dream,” plus trailers for “32ndSt.”and other Pathfinder releases.
The DVD extras and the look at the seamy side of an unfamiliar site (Koreatown Manhattan) and the menacing fascination of Jun Seong-Kim’s performance lift an otherwise familiar neo-noir story of moral ambiguities above the average.
©2012, Stephen O. Murray
Thanks to Christal for adding this to the database.
Viewing Format: DVD
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