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by Rachel Toyer, staff writer

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.

 

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