‘Ktown Cowboys’: Film Review

Courtesy of Freestyle Digital Media
An entertaining portrait of a vibrant urban community.

Five Los Angeles natives attempt to come to terms with growing up and moving on in Daniel Park’s debut feature.

The inner workings of clubbing and carousing in Los Angeles’ Koreatown district get close scrutiny from the perspective of five young men struggling with personal and career issues in Ktown Cowboys. Adapted from Daniel Park’s successful web-series by the same title, this ensemble comedic drama maintains a light touch while surveying the challenges of accepting adult responsibilities, meriting attention from niche audiences and Southern California denizens alike.

Opening voiceover narration by Jason (Shane Yoon), the wealthy heir to an L.A. manufacturing company with headquarters in South Korea, introduces his group of best friends, beginning with Sunny (Sunn Wee), who has put his career plans on hold to help out with his family’s corner liquor store. Robby (Bobby Choy) is the conflicted adopted son of Caucasian parents and Danny (Danny Cho) is trying to make it as a stand-up comedian, while Peter (Peter Jae) is the only one not consistently working as he finishes a degree in fashion design.

Driven by the impending bankruptcy of Jason’s family company following an embezzlement scandal, the narrative smoothly transitions from one character’s dilemmas to another’s. The strongest subplots involve Sunny’s difficult decisions concerning long-term care for his dementia-afflicted father and Peter’s struggle to come to terms with his unresolved anger over his dad’s recent death, as well as Jason’s efforts to save his company from ruin. These story strands are connected by the group’s frequent outings to Ktown bars, restaurants and clubs, where Park introduces viewers to some uniquely Korean options beyond the area’s well-known karaoke bars, including speed dating-style “booking clubs” and semi-erotic entertainment for both men and women in specialty venues mostly unknown outside the Korean-American community.

Park’s directorial approach frequently draws on music video-style flourishes, including animated explanatory titles superimposed over scenes that often lead to moments of ironic humor in contrast to the action onscreen, as well as fast-forward and rewind editing techniques that shuffle the film’s timeline. Most of the principal cast is drawn from the web-series, which was directed by Park and co-written by Cho, who surprisingly has the most underwritten role in the feature. Jae gives the strongest performance as an angry young man trying to come to terms with his grief as he attempts to move on with a productive career.

Yoon navigates the most complex storyline, ably demonstrating the conflicts inherent in assimilating traditional cultural values with contemporary social expectations. In a supporting role, Angie Kim rates notice for her amusing impression of a spoiled rich girl attempting to keep her privileged lifestyle from slipping away. Cameos by Daniel Dae Kim and Ken Jeong (also an executive producer) lend the film support from readily recognizable entertainment personalities.

Distributor: Freestyle Releasing
Production company: Musa Productions
Cast: Danny Cho, Sunn Wee, Peter Jae, Bobby Choy, Shane Yoon, Ken Jeong, Daniel Dae Kim, Angie Kim, Tiffany Chung
Director: Daniel Park
Screenwriters: Danny Cho, Brian Chung, Daniel Park, Jeff Hoffman
Producers: Brian Chung, Greg Bishop, Daniel Sollinger, Daniel Park, Danny Cho
Executive producers: Sam Chi, Ken Jeong
Director of photography: Chase Bowman
Production designer: Kil Won Yu
Costume designer: Chantal Filson 
Editors: David Oh, James Renfroe
Music: Jonathan Wandag

Not rated, 83 minutes