Look at Me, America (1991)

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Korean director Richard W. Park, known for L.A. Street Fighters, Miami Connection, and American Chinatown, directs this action-filled drama of rivals in high school who despite having a connection in terms of family, hold a grudge for each other.

Korean-born immigrant Paul is a top running back in football. He is also a martial artist, having studied Tae Kwon Do. He seems well-liked by most of his peers, except for a local gang run by Billy. When a fellow football player and member of Billy’s gang attempts to beat up Paul, an issue is challenged in a vacant building. Paul is able to defeat the rogue player and get the attention of local girl Judy. Judy’s attraction to Paul makes Billy insanely jealous.

While Paul has a best friend in fellow Korean Charlie, his family life is not good at all. Paul’s father is an alcoholic and his mother had grown tired of her husband’s lifestyle. She leaves him and eventually marries Billy’s father. Billy, not happy with the fact that Paul’s mother is now part of his family, constantly harasses Paul and forcing him to fight his friends in the nearby vacant building. Despite efforts from Billy’s father to keep peace between the two rivals, Paul soon learns the hard way why it is not easy to be an immigrant in America sometimes. Feeling prejudice from Jenny’s parents and Billy, the only way Paul may have to break the barrier once and for all, is with his martial arts skills.

Richard W. Park, or Park Woo-Sang, is quite an interesting filmmaker. The main issue in his films involves Korean immigrants in the United States and the hardships they deal with in terms of prejudice and getting involved in gangs. While he has tackled the issue and loaded them with action in other films, this film has the notoriety of focusing more on the dramatic side and dial it down on the action. For this film, it would have been much easier for Park to pull his trademark and load the drama and make it tense enough to lead to the action.

While distributors capitalized on the star power of television star Erik Estrada, the film’s true stars are Joon B. Kim and Jonathan Gorman. It is interesting to see these two play rivals when just two years prior to this, they played best friends in Jun Chong’s film Street Soldiers. Kim, a martial artist and current television producer, plays the Korean immigrant who struggles to make it in the town he lives in and despite having some friends and a relationship, it is constant harassment that tortures him until he is forced to fight.

Gorman plays the racist high school gang leader who cannot stand Paul not only because of his race, but even worse, his new stepmother is Paul’s mother. He feels he must send a message to Paul by having him constantly fight. The big waste is Charlie, Paul’s friend, played by Hapkido Grand Master Ho Sik Pak. He only gets one fight in the entire film, a far cry from his exciting fight scene in Best of the Best as one of the Korean team members.

Look at Me, America should have been a good effort for director Richard Park. While he tackled his trademark theme well, he should have a little more action and even more, end the film with perhaps a fight scene between rivals Paul and Billy. Instead, the movie ends on a bad note and ultimately the film seems more like a waste of time.

WFG RATING: D

Peacock Films presents a Hae-Seon Production. Director: Richard W. Park. Producers: Ryan H. Pak, Park Hae-Seon, Moshe Bibiyan, and Simon Bibiyan. Writers: Simon Blake Hong, Richard W. Park, and Malcolm Abbey. Cinematography: Maximo Munzi. Editing: Craig A. Colton.

Cast: Erik Estrada, Jonathan Gorman, Joon B. Kim, Nicole Rio, Angel Dashek, Ho Sik Pak, Ken Bowman, Roseanne Bowman, Alexis Rhee, Master Cho, Diane Smith, John Nowark, Troy Donahue.

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