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How a Plano Native Wound Up Producing a Film About the L.A. Riots

Alex Chi was glad to cancel his surfing trip so he could help bring his friend's labor of love to the big screen.

Alex Chi abandoned his plans for an impromptu surfing vacation and wound up producing a movie instead.

The Plano native called his friend, actor Justin Chon, last year and suggested they catch some waves. Chon declined, saying he was preparing to direct and star in a longtime passion project about the 1992 Los Angeles riots. But he needed a producer.

“I was very fortunate for my first movie as a producer, to have a great script like this come my way,” Chi said of Gook, a low-budget, black-and-white drama with a personal connection for its filmmaker.

The duo met in India several months earlier, when Chon (21 and Over) was starring in an independent film for which Chi was an associate producer.

“He and I hit it off really quickly,” Chi said during the Dallas International Film Festival. “I told him about my dreams of being a producer, and he told me about all these projects he wanted to make.”

Chi was a former soccer standout at Plano West High School who earned an economics degree at Harvard. His showbiz start came as a production executive for commercials and Korean television before branching out to feature films.

In Gook, Chon plays a young Korean-American man who has inherited — along with his slacker brother (David So) — his late father’s fledgling shoe store in the suburb of Paramount. The siblings form a surrogate family for a streetwise young black girl (Simone Baker) just as the Rodney King verdict sets off the riots, sending the city into racially charged chaos.

Chon was 11 at the time, and his father actually owned a shop in Paramount that was looted on the final day of the riots.

“He grew up in this atmosphere, and he wanted to tell the story from his perspective,” Chi said about the film, which was shot in 23 days and features a diverse group of collaborators.

Chon’s father, Sang, was a former child actor in Korea who hadn’t appeared on screen in decades prior to reluctantly agreeing to play a small but critical role in Gook. Chi and Chon found their composer, Roger Suen, through Kickstarter. And the film’s cinematographer, Ante Cheng, is a USC film student who Chon met on another project.

“They had a whole bunch of creative ideas for how to shoot this on the low budget that we had,” Chi said. “A main reason it’s in black-and-white is that it’s a period piece set in 1992, and it’s so hard to mask a lot of stuff from today.”

With Gook earning acclaim on the festival circuit and during its limited theatrical release, Chi said the team plans to work together on more projects. Perhaps this time around, they’ll even take time out for surfing.

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