The oft-discussed but never-picked-up reality show K-Town -- dubbed "the Korean American Jersey Shore" -- has finally debuted as an online series on YouTube pop culture channel Loud. K-Town follows a group of mostly Korean Americans as they live (and drink) in L.A., airing in weekly 10 minute episodes.
Oliver Wang provides a comprehensive roundup of the controversies surrounding the show since its production was announced two years ago, as well as the criticism of its ethnic/cultural reality TV brethren, such as Bravo's Shahs of Sunset and The History Channel's Swamp People. While some consider these shows to be progress, others question the representation: Are marginalized groups being subjected to buffoonery for mainstream consumption? Is this another notch in the media's "let's demean people who we think are different" bedpost?
These are questions larger than the shows themselves and though they can never be answered definitively, they certainly are important.
This is why I have taken it upon myself to recap every episode of K-Town's run, fulfilling my own selfish need for voyeurism and schadenfreude as well as providing weekly context for the ongoing debate about the show's impact -- racial, cultural, or otherwise -- on the pop media landscape.
Episode 1: Aired Wednesday, July 11, 2012
The opening sequence kicks off with fairly slick establishing shots of Koreatown at night and perhaps some covert advertising ("Hey, there's the Hanmi Bank building!") before launching into the cast credits. Each cast member has a designation: Jasmine is "The Jokester," Young is "The Entertainer," "Scarlet is "The Troublemaker," Steve is "The Party Animal," Violet is "The Drama Queen," Joe is "The Bad Ass," Cammy is "The Sweetheart," and Jowe is "The Heartbreaker."
If critics were worried about K-Town recreating stereotypical models of Korean and Asian Americans, no worries! The cast members have further labeled themselves with generic personality traits. The generalizations totally cancel each other out.
After a montage of street signs and business storefronts, we enter a nail salon where we meet Jasmine, a blond, award-winning hairstylist and lifelong K-Town resident and her pal Scarlet, who's new to the area. What I love about Jasmine is that she always sounds slightly drunk when she speaks. As they chat out front, a motorcycle rolls up and skids to a graceful stop. The leather-clad rider removes her helmet, whips her hair around in slow motion, and reveals herself as Violet.
If you didn't know already, Koreans love them some drama and flash. It was a scene straight out of a student director's shot-for-shot homage to The Fast and the Furious franchise. You'll see a lot of this stylization throughout the episode. My hope is that they'll utilize these filming techniques when someone vomits in a bathroom stall at a nightclub. Not even Michael Bay has thought of that.
We learn that biker mama Violet is an actual mama, and works hard to provide for her young son. Doing what, we don't know, because we then cut to the male half of the cast, vigorously partaking in a boxing workout. The muscly one is Joe, a club promoter with a penchant for big earrings, daily exercise, and headbands. If you think the headband is just for the gym, you're wrong. The headband is a staple of Joe's wardrobe in all environments and social settings. Then we meet Steve who says he likes to work hard, drink harder and believes you should "show your love for the women, man." My immediate thought is that Steve is gay. Steve, if you're straight, I don't think that line achieves what you intended.
Next up is Young, a dancer and aspiring entertainer who looks like
this workout is extracting the very last breath from his lungs. Joe ribs
him for not hooking up on his recent trip to Korea because that is
apparently the only reason to ever visit Korea. Young says he
has a big announcement for the group dinner later that night.
Back at the salon, we learn that Violet is recently heartbroken, an explanation that is intercut with extensive video footage of her and her ex walking around town and being gooey. Because, eh, who doesn't film the first six months of their relationship? She believes her ex to be a fame whore and a regular ol' whore, and she inadvertently insults herself by saying, "He's the male version of me," which she follows up by opining that no man should ever be like that. What?
Scarlet thinks that Violet is simply attracted to men who are dicks and that there are elements to the relationship saga that Violet is not revealing. Violet rebuts with a maxim that I will be incorporating into my life immediately: "The truth comes from me."
Later that night, the group meets up at a place called Beer Belly. The server brings out a bottle from "Violet's secret stash" which is apparently not on the menu. Considering we don't know Violet's occupation yet, I'm guessing she makes bootleg soju in her bathtub.
Young quickly makes his announcement that he is now engaged to his girlfriend, So Young, who recently returned to Korea after her student visa expired. He also cracks up at his own lame joke about his name sounding similar to his fiancee's name. Let's hope his dancing is better than his punchline delivery. He does, however, score points for demolishing Scarlet's dream of being a bridesmaid in his wedding. I like Scarlet, but girlfriend's voice is shrill, which might explain Young's quip, "The moment she opens her mouth, they'll probably cancel the whole wedding."
The excitement over Young's pending nuptials is soon dampened by Joe turning the conversation to business. He's prepping for a large club event and is employing the crew to help him, making Jasmine do hair and Young work the door. Scarlet offers up her go-go dancing services but wants to know how much she'll get paid (valid question). I don't even like helping friends move, so props to these guys for taking work orders like it ain't no thang. Do any of them have gainful employment to support gym memberships, mani-pedis, and huge bar tabs? We're not so sure. I sense a future debate on socioeconomic class and rosy depictions of supposed Asian-American wealth on the horizon.
The mood changes even more with the arrival of Violet's ex, Jowe. Please note that "Jowe" is pronounced "Joey" because the casting directors somehow knew that this fact would delight people like me. While everyone expects Violet to freak out, she remains relatively calm even when he sits down right next to her. This is quite the Herculean task, not just because of their romantic history, but because Jowe is "The Prince of K-Town." His intro clip looks like a commercial trying to get you to lease a luxury sedan, and I bet that was Jowe's idea. He claims that others have bestowed his princely title upon him, but I believe that about as much as I believe that it's okay to spell your name "Jowe."
The gang moves from the bar to a club that requires navigating through basement elevators and alleyways, which understandably puts K-Town newbie Scarlet on edge. But when they reach their destination, Scarlet's jaw drops at the sight of what appears to be every single nightclub to have ever been built after 1999 in America. Maybe it was in fact a neon wonderland unlike anything else, but I just didn't see what was so awe-inducing about it.
Thus ends the inaugural episode of K-Town, with a sneak peek to next week's developments on the gang's night out, which includes more drinking, some awkward dance battles, and Scarlet throwing a beverage in Prince Jowe's face.
I cannot wait.