Set in the streets of New York City, West
32nd Street introduces audiences to the lives of members of
the Korean underground seen through the eyes of lawyer and
protagonist John Kim played by John Cho. In the film, Kim takes
on a pro bono case to help a 14-year-old Korean boy who is
being held on a charge of conspiracy to murder Jin Ho Chun,
played by Jun-ho Jeong, manager a local club on West 32nd Street.
The family of the boy consists of his elderly mother, who doesn’t
speak much English, and his older sister, Lila, played by Grace
Park, who is able to translate between Kim and her mother. Kim
assures the family that he will do everything that is humanly
possible to help exonerate the boy. Kim takes the case in hopes
that he will win some favor with his boss, and that he will achieve
the status of partner in his firm. Little does Kim know, he is
about to enter a dark and high powered world in order to gather
evidence to help his client.
Enter the antagonist, Mike Juhn, played by Jun Sung Kim, who
is a leader in the Korean underground, a tough guy, with connections
to all the ins and outs of the Korean business world and Korean
gangs. Juhn quickly befriends Kim and shows him “what he
has been missing” by way of salon rooms, where men typically
spend lots of money on food, alcohol, and the companionship of
a beautiful Korean woman, who can be paid to sit and keep the
male guest happy, without having to take her clothes off.
Kim is quickly drawn into this world, as it signifies power and
status, two things he is trying to achieve. Juhn introduces Kim
to the people he considers his “friends,” and the
more Kim learns about the group, the more evidence he is able
to gather for his case. Kim learns that Lila also has ties with
Juhn and his crew.
Kim realizes quickly that he is on his own, and that he can’t
trust anyone. The movie is filled with twists and turns that
take the young lawyer for a ride in a world he knows nothing
about. The plot thickens when a key witness is brutally murdered
by Juhn. Kim is unable to stop him from invading his home and
beating him unless he agrees to stop his investigation. Kim refuses,
as he has the murdered witnesses’ testimony on tape, identifying
Juhn as the key suspect. The men agree that if Juhn gets another
witness to testify, Kim will not reveal his secret. The movie
ends with Kim finishing the case and making partner at his firm.
Director Michael Kang is Korean-American and shot the film on
location in New York’s Korea town. Even though Kang admitted
that his Korean is not that good, he used the language regularly
during the movie with English subtitles, incorporating English
dialogue mostly between the main characters.