With my love of film and all the hype I was seeing about this particular one… plus the fact that I loved the original web series, there was no way I was missing Ktown Cowboys at South by Southwest (SXSW). I wasn’t able to make the premiere but made sure to make the screening on Wednesday.
I’ll be honest, I re-watched the web series not long before heading to Austin to prep for my interview with Danny Cho, one of the two writers of and one of the actors in the film… as well as most of the Footnotes they put on YouTube leading up to the premiere. I’m not saying that you have to have watched them but it certainly doesn’t hurt (plus the original web series is fun and it will only take you about 2 hours).
Ktown Cowboys is a raunchy bromance disguised as a coming-of-age story based on the popular 2010 web series where we see five guys, friends for years, move from simply being adults to actually being grownups. Along the way, we not only get to know them and their struggles/issues but also a little about Korean-American culture and Koreatown in L.A.
The film follows the five friends: Jason (Shane Yoon), who runs his late father’s business until it hits a major snag; Sunny (Sun Wee), a nice guy who runs his family’s liquor store and is dealing with his father’s illness; Danny (Danny Cho), who left his finance job to pursue stand-up comedy; Peter (Peter Jae), a hot-headed fashion student who is always hitting on girls in the clubs; and Robby (Bobby Choy), an adoptee whose parents keep encouraging him to go to Korea to get in touch with his heritage.
On a side note: I find the differences in L.A.’s Koreatown and Toronto’s fascinating but perhaps that’s just me as a culture nut/writer.
While I was pretty sure I would like the film (hey, I liked the web series and the same major players are involved), it definitely met my expectations. I laughed, I cried, and I thoroughly enjoyed this slightly mature coming-of-age story that’s easily relatable, even if you aren’t Korean-American. Yeah, there were a few slow moments or transitions that were a little off, but on the whole, it was a fun film.
It was funny, in-your-face, and at times, sweet. I even cried a bit (and blushed). Okay, it’s not unusual for me to cry when watching films but I wasn’t expecting to do so with this film. I especially wasn’t expecting to connect with, and like, the character who made me cry as he wasn’t one I particularly liked in the web series or footnotes. But that was the beauty of the film for me, they were able to expand more on some of the characters and by doing so, they became more real, more three-dimensional. And so, I ended up crying during Peter’s soliloquy at the gravesite. It was just so sweet and caring, and showed the audience that he wasn’t just the obnoxious dude always trying too hard to pick up in bars. Which was my first impression, and my second.
That being said, while there are five guys in this bromance and they each have their own story and struggle, I found it interesting that Danny’s story arch was the least developed or fleshed out. We got to know all of the others reasonably well but not his. Yeah, Jason’s story did overshadow them all a bit but the others did seem more focal than Danny’s.
However, it was a fun film but some scenes just stood out more for me – especially the Robby anal sex conversation (yeah, I did just say that) and the balls-in-the-cup scene (I would really like to un-see that… please, please let me wash that from my brain). The first because it was super funny and unexpected. The second because I can’t erase it from my brain (I tried to look away… I really did).
On top of the raunchy comedy, the scenes where the various members of the cast explain different aspects of Korean-American culture (some of which also applies to Korean culture) were great – and a nice connection to the web series. Ever wanted to know about a “booking club” or what “oppa” means? They have you covered. (And having been to the first and said the second, they made me laugh.)
But I think the highlight for me, as I’m partial to character-driven stories, was the fact that the characters were all real – flawed but trying to better themselves.
If I was to describe the film in one sentence… it’s an engaging, and at times unexpected, bromance where we see the main characters become grownups, not just adults. Yes, it’s definitely a little over-the-top at times (like I said, I really wish I could scrub the beer balls scene from my brain) but that’s what makes it fun… and real. Because who hasn’t done some crazy-assed stuff in their lives? It’s also a mix of subtle and in-your-face adult humour which keeps you watching, even when you want to look away. Watching the characters deal with real situations like a bad boss or an ill parent keep the film grounded, while the crazier moments like before mentioned scene that I want to delete from my mind provide lighter moments and laughs. Plus you get a bit of an insight into partying in Koreatown in L.A.
All in all, I enjoyed watching Ktown Cowboys and would recommend it, with the cravat that it’s definitely an adult film (I don’t think it’s been rated yet) and the humour won’t be for everyone. Is it a great film, no but it’s a good one, especially for a first feature (by director Daniel Park). Those who watched and liked the web series will especially enjoy it. Hopefully it comes to Toronto as I think it would do well here.
And as a film junkie, I loved the Q&A afterwards (photos are from the Q&A).
Have you seen Ktown Cowboys? What did you think? Did you watch the original web series?