Review: ‘West 32nd’

Michael Kang's second feature "West 32nd" -- following his oddball coming-of-ager "Motel" -- is a slick Asian-style thriller set in Manhattan's Korea Town. Bilingual production with a mix of Korean and American actors reps the first American outing of Korea's CJ Entertainment and an addition to producer Teddy Zee's ongoing American-Asian cross-pollination.

Michael Kang’s second feature “West 32nd” — following his oddball coming-of-ager “Motel” — is a slick Asian-style thriller set in Manhattan’s Korea Town. Bilingual production with a mix of Korean and American actors reps the first American outing of Korea’s CJ Entertainment and an addition to producer Teddy Zee’s ongoing American-Asian cross-pollination. But, despite deft action set pieces and a highly atmospheric use of color, pic ultimately lacks true tension and fails to flesh out script’s somewhat sketchy, “Infernal Affairs”-type mirror-image setup. “West” may fare better in the East, given the novelty of its well-utilized Gotham K-Town locations.

When the manager (Jun Ho Jeong) of a 32nd Street “room salon” (the Korean equivalent of a geisha house) is murdered, ambitious young lawyer John Kim (John Cho) takes on the pro bono case of the alleged assassin, a 14-year-old Korean boy, at the behest of his boss. However, Kim’s meetings with the accused’s very attractive sister Lila (Grace Park), in the Flushing, Queens neighborhood of Kim’s early childhood, sparks a more personal interest in the case.

Kim’s investigation leads him to Mike Juhn (Jun Kim), the leader of a gang of street kids (teen versions of the clueless, semi-comic goons in many Asian gangster pics). A rather lowly figure in the loose Korean mob hierarchy, Juhn proves as ambitious as Kim. He briefly ascends to the murdered manager’s spot at the salon room, but is kicked out because of his “American” brashness.

Soon the lawyer and the gangster are hanging out together. Kim, who only speaks a few words of Korean, is tempted by the color and quasi-lawlessness of K-town, while Juhn is intrigued by the power and class of Kim’s world.

Kang and co-scriptwriter/journalist Edmund Lee’s sparse exposition strengthens their depiction of the Korean underworld with its opportunist coups mapped out almost wordlessly in the back rooms and narrow hallways of the upscale room salons.

But the same bare-bone economy short-changes the scarcely established central leads. The thesps are given little back-story or plot detail with which to build a character. Though Kim’s Mike succeeds somewhat in exuding the charismatic will of a small-scale Korean Scarface, he has no one to play off against.

Cho’s deadpan comic timing (spot on in “American Pie” and “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”) here registers as wooden, as he single-handedly brings the word “inscrutable” back to descriptions of Asian identity.

Tech credits are pro.

West 32nd

Production

A CJ Entertainment presentation of a Teddy Zee production. Produced by Zee, Miky Lee. Executive producers, Jamin O’Brien, Ted Kim, Joo Sung Kim. Co-producers, Sabine Schenk, Joon Hwan Choi. Directed by Michael Kang. Screenplay, Edmund Lee, Kang.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Simon Cuoll; editor, David Leonard; music, Nathan Larson; music supervisor, Robin Urdang; production designer, Carol Strober; costume designer, Kitty Boots; sound (Dolby), David Slyke; casting, Susan Shopmaker. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (competing), May 4, 2007. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

John Cho, Jun Kim, Grace Park, Jane Kim, Jun Ho Jeong. (English, Korean dialogue)

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0

Leave a Reply

No Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More Film News from Variety

Loading