Sunday, November 16, 2008

CSI: Koreatown

Warning: This post contains spoilers. Also, I've been writing it in stages, so if it says "more to come," don't be annoyed. 

Last Thursday night, the new episode of CBS's hit show CSI (the original one that takes place in tawdry Las Vegas) centered around a double murder that took place at a street market in Las Vegas's Koreatown (yeah, I didn't know they had one either). The season 9 episode is entitled "Say Uncle."

After I get done with a midterm, I'll share some thoughts. It's not pretty, but it's not the horrible caricature or wildly inaccurate depiction that it could have been. I'll start with comments that I'm impressed that they made an effort to make the business signs look passably legitimate. There's a noraebang (노래방, karaoké divided into small rooms); a "color copy fax" business, though they should have written "copy" as poksa (복사) instead of Hangulized k'ap'i to represent "copy,: 

There's also a sundubu (순두부, spicy tofu stew) restaurant called "Sundubu Village." Yeah, I guess I can imagine that being the name of a Korean restaurant, though Korean businesses in the western United States (or at least in Orange County and I guess here in Honolulu) more typically have place names from Seoul or elsewhere in Korea in their name. Thus, you have Apkujŏng Noraebang, Chongno Kalbi, or Pusan Sushi (better yet, Chigalch'i Sushi or Noryangjin Sushi).  

We then have a bicycle repair shop (why not a bike shop in general), and a family restaurant run by Miyŏn, whoever the heck she is. At the top of the signs it says tambae (담배, cigarettes) but that would in fact be an unusual sign to have in a list of stores. 

The episode starts with the camera following an Asian (presumably Korean) teenage girl biking through a block party or street market populated by other Asians (also presumably Korean). This being CSI, you hope that this innocent girl (girl-next-door cute neophyte actress Olivia Sui) is not about to fall victim to something horrible. Instead, she witnesses a double murder. Actually, everybody on the freakin' street witnesses a double murder. 

More to come, but for now here are some pictures...

More to come, but for now here are some more pictures (captured with my EyeTV recordings on my iMac)...

Han•gŭl is so hip these days, it is now part of the "CSI" opening. In the picture above, the main character and head CSI, Grissom, is standing in front of a store with a sign that says 부탄 in styled Korean (i.e., vertically placed with the consonants broken up into their separate components). This is pronounced putan and can refer to either the country Bhutan or the fuel butane
<— The part in red is obvious.

Some naysayers may say, "Nay, it says either HOTEL or MOTEL." But I say "nay" to the naysayers, who aren't as hip as I. Clearly it is either a Korean-owned Bhutanese restaurant (and the dirty secret of Bhutanese cuisine is that, like most Japanese restaurants in America, they're owned by Koreans) or it's a shop that sells butane. Or both (that's another dirty secret of kyopo commerce). 

Was this episode offensive to Korean-Americans for the way it stereotypes the kyopo community? Kia Motors seems not to think so, since they paid good money to hawk the Kia Sorento on the show. The Kia Sorento which got a five-star crash rating on in all four categories from the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). 

Not shown, but in the same commercial, was a Kia Sedona minivan (which is what I drive back in Seoul), because you can get $5000 cash back if you purchase either of these vehicles before December 31, 2008. See your local dealer for details. Not available on Sedona base model. 

This is the guy who died. Poor guy just got out of prison, which is why the CSI team incorrectly believed that his murder had something to do with gang violence and/or something that happened in prison. 

Just why are CSIs trying to solve crimes? Isn't that the job of the detectives? Maybe if the CSIs were just doing the science stuff like they're supposed to this double murder wouldn't have taken the whole hour to solve. Get some detectives in there and we can solve more cases in less time, which means more gore for the viewers. If you haven't figured it out by now, CSI viewers tune in for the stylized depiction of gore. It's like forensic pornography. Sick bastards!

This is the second victim, Kora Sil (played by actress Jin Yang). I already warned you there were spoilers, so I'll just tell you now she's not an innocent victim: she killed the other guy, who was her brother, because her brother tried to take her son away. Why'd he do that? Because the mother and her gangster boyfriend were getting kickbacks from a haole pharmaceutical guy to put her HIV-positive son on a highly suspect experimental regimen. 

So the uncle takes the boy away, the mother goes after her brother (the uncle), and shoots him in front of a whole bunch of strangers at a Korean street market because we know from the cops' narrative (at the beginning of the show) that Koreans won't talk to the cops. Something about not trusting the police back in the motherland. Yeah, thanks, CSI, for setting up every freakin' Korean immigrant in America as a crime target. 'Preciate it. Loads. 

Anyway, the mother ends up being killed, but the CSIs think it's at the hands of the dying brother, in some last act of vengeance. (Me, if my sister shot me, I'd be going, "What the hell?" I wouldn't be trying to shoot her. But that's me. Maybe if my sister were also an HIV-positive, heroin-addicted prostitute like the mother in the story, I'd have different thoughts about my sister coming after me with a gun.) 

Later in turns out that the little boy killed his own mother after his mother shot the uncle who was trying to save him (like we need more depictions of troubled Korean immigrants gunning people down in public). Not only did the CSIs not figure out that the boy had done the killing, but they actually believed him when he said it was someone else. Am I the only one who is disturbed by the lack of detectives in the Las Vegas Police Department?

The only detective the crime lab seems to have is Ando Masahashi from "Heroes" (actor James Kyson Lee). Why is Ando playing a bit role as an LVPD police officer? Are there even fewer Asian-American actors than there are LVPD police detectives? 

Maybe they shouldn't trust Ando when he translates for them. I've seen enough of "Heroes" to guess that Ando might be there in Vegas posing as a police officer as part of some plot to help Hiro do something or other in the past to prevent some bad something or other in the future, and he really doesn't give a rat's ass whether this double murder gets solved. 

[Seriously, though, I wonder if this is the beginning of Ando playing a larger role in this series. Does this mean his character on "Heroes" is about to disappear? I hope not. I think the guy does very convincing Japanese dialogue on "Heroes." Probably everybody watching "Heroes" thinks James Kyson Lee's really Japanese, just like the Kia Sorento.]

You see from other parts of the show that the young Korean mother (murder victim #2) is sort of hot. Thin—maybe too thin for someone who has had a kid—and crazy nutso. But hot. Though she's lying on her back, you can see her breasts are still standing at attention, which is nearly a sure bet that they're mercenaries. The moral of this episode is simple: never trust a Korean-born woman who gets a boob job. They're nuts. I'm not kidding. Certifiable. If you don't like 'em small and natural, move along, brother. Move along. 

The picture of the dead woman reminds me of something I've heard by a few people who have said they want to die young so they can leave a beautiful corpse. The problem with that is that if you do manage somehow to die young, there's a pretty good chance it's going to be in a way that involves a lot of blood, maybe splattered brains, or at the very least a lot of vomit and/or evacuated bowels. It's never pretty. Just accept that getting old is a natural process and look forward to life with your future grandkids and great-grandkids. 

In the show, this woman heard gunshots and whisked her child away to safety. Sure, she's being a protective mother now, but you know in fifteen years she'll be torturing this child to no end about her grades and her SAT math scores if they fall lower than 3.95 or 750.  

This is a gun-toting Korean halmŏni (할머니, i.e., grandmother, also used to refer to an elderly woman). Never mind that most Korean women (and most men, I guess) are so scared to even look at a gun, if they ever held one they would be shaking like a leaf instead of boldly pointing it at a cop. 

This actress, June Kyoko Lu, has appeared in small parts on many television shows over the past few decades, including Lost, ER, and M*A*S*H. So if you're thinking all Asians look alike, they might all just be her.

Back to the street market. Except for the sign, nothing about this looks like a Korean-run shopping center. And even the sign is missing the English that most signs in America would still have. The parking lot should be bigger, it should be full of white, black, silver, or gray Japanese cars, and it shouldn't be across the street from 1940s-era Los Angeles homes. 

I used to love watching CSI for the fact that they showed so much of Las Vegas, where I had spent many summers with relatives when I was a kid. They really captured the tawdriness and the soullessness of Sin City. But as the franchise grew, you can tell they've gotten lazy and they try to use Southern California locations to stand in for Vegas. They do the same with CSI: Miami, using Long Beach in particular to look like Miami. 

But it's just not the same. There are older homes in Vegas, but with Clark County growing by 38,279%* over the past twenty-five years, most of the homes are hastily built cookie-cutter stucco jobs with small lawns filled with barely surviving grass. Come on, CBS, what are we paying you for?!

More to come...

* I pulled this statistic out of my butt. 


  1. LOL. Was trying to find out more about this episode- thanks. Awesome post

  2. We do have a Koreatown here in Las Vegas, but it's mostly intermixed with Chinatown and can't really distinguish it from the Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, etc. shops unless one knows

    When we first moved here in 1994, there was two Korean restaurants in all of Las Vegas. Now there's hundreds and the Korean community has grown like mad. Mostly Koreans that moved here from SoCal during the boom-boom years of the mid 90's to mid 2000 before the crash.


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