SXSW Film Review: Ktown Cowboys (USA, 2015)

The 2015 SXSW Festival is in full swing in Austin, Texas. And undeniably, one of the most anticipated highlights of this year’s conference was the world premiere of the long awaited, fan-funded, Ktown Cowboys – a film based on the wildly popular web-series of the same name.

Directed by Daniel Park, Ktown Cowboys follows the lives of a rambunctious quintet of hard-partying friends in Los Angeles’ infamous K-Town. Not without its fair share of drama, the full-length feature film is a light-hearted comedy about a band of American-Korean friends, grappling with their own challenges as they plunge headlong into adulthood.

At first we are introduced to the entirely likeable Sunny (Sun Wee), a dreamer who manages his family’s liquor store. And then there is Danny (Danny Cho) who gave up his “cushy” finance career to pursue a passion for stand-up comedy, the burly Peter (Peter Jae) who is only interested in working out, girls, and designing clothes, and Robby (Bobby Choy), the child of adopted parents who encourage him to go to Korea, afraid that he is out of touch with his “biological heritage”.

And even though this story attempts to be every bit as much about each character, it is headlined by Jason (Shane Yoon), a self-proclaimed “spoiled asshole” who run’s his late father’s organisation. To sum-up the plot quite precisely is almost impossible; each character brings their own story as we are given an ever-so-brief snapshot of each of their lives. This results in a movie of many stories, with their mateship playing a central role.

The movie takes a direct, almost shockingly quick turn; hectic, loud, and almost confronting, everything changes within a matter of small moments. It is here that the tone is set for the rest of the film. It is not dark, or mysterious, or even all that serious. Rather, there is a liberating tone, providing enough breadth for the characters to move, to explore, and to change.

As each character comes to terms with their own individual struggles, they band together in a series of late nights in neon-lit noraebangs, “booking” bars, sordid after-hour soju houses, and even a few hours behind bars.

And amongst all of this, our protagonists occasionally address the audience and call and effective time-out to clarify the situation or provide the low-down on Korean terminology; phrases like “Oppa” or ideas like “booking” are explained, giving the viewer a 101 on American-Korean culture.

All of this culminates in a rather predictable, yet no less satisfying ending. However, as the credits started to roll, I could not help but feel that the film was far from any sort of conclusion. Undeniably, there were a few loose ends that could have been tied up, a myriad of small tales that left gaping holes in the story line. At the same time, major plot point’s felt rushed through and curiously dealt with, without further explanation. In a way, it does lend itself into feeling like a series of smaller webisodes stitched together. Unfortunately, something inherent within this discontinuous episodic format seems to struggle. Overall, the film may have benefited with an extra ten-minutes of screen time; clearly there was a beginning, and there was definitely an end, but at some point during the middle a few layers became lost or inconsequential.

“Basically, this is a f—ked up coming of age story.”

Except, it is not really that f—ked up at all. A little confusing, yes. Quite honestly it is not all that consistent, either. Yet, amongst all the boyish sexual innuendo and late night shenanigans, this film is mostly about a group of guys who are intrinsically human, insecure, hardworking, and struggling to navigate their way through the daily throws of adulthood.

Drenched in a haze of vibrant neon lights, shot glasses, and just a hint of K-Pop, this is where this film triumphs. While each character has their unique flaws, by the end they all emerge as better versions of themselves. And from my perspective, that is actually a pretty damn awesome coming of age story.


Running Time: 81 minutes

Ktown Cowboys premiered at SXSW. For more information on Ktown Cowboys check out their website.


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