SA-I-GU: From Korean Women’s Perspectives

Sa-I-Gu Photo
Photo courtesy of the Center for Asian American Media

Genre: Documentary
Ethnicity: Korean American
Themes: Cultural Encounter & Misunderstanding, Gender and Sexuality, Immigrant/Refugee Experience/Diaspora, Political/Legal Issues
Date: 1993
Running Time: 36 min.
Director/Co-Producer: Dai Sil Kim-Gibson
Christine Choy
Elaine Kim
Availability: Center for Asian American Media (formerly NAATA)
College/Institution: DVD $125 Purchase/$60 Rental
K-12/Public Library/Community Group: DVD $75 Purchase/$40 Rental
"Sa-I-Gu," literally "April 29," is about the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which occurred following the acquittal of four white LAPD officers in the beating of a black motorist, Rodney King.  Narrated three months after the event by Korean women shopkeepers, and using newsreel, family photographs, and interviews, Sa-I-Gu documents the little heard Korean perspective on the riots in which nearly half of the city’s billion dollars in damages was suffered by Korean American mom and pop storeowners in South Central Los Angeles and nearby Koreatown.  In the film, the women talk about coming to the US in search of the American Dream, their feelings toward the African American community, their demands for government compensation, and their hopes for better relations with their neighbors.  Sa-I-Gu provides an important perspective for better understanding the Los Angeles riots, community studies, and ethnic relations and racism in the United States

Mills, David.  "Korean Images of a Torn L.A."  Washington Post.  November 14, 1992.
Discusses the making of the film, and interviews co-producers Choy and Kim-Gibson.
Murphy, Paula C.  "Sa-I-Gu."  ABC-CLIO Video Rating Guide for Libraries.  1995.

Schine, Eric.  "Koreans: Riot casualties the world doesn’t see."  Business Week.  April 12, 1993.

Supplementary Materials
Park, Sharon.  "Saigu."  Amerasia Journal.  Vol 19 Issue 2, 1993.

Sample Discussion Questions
1. The Korean women in Sa-I-Gu criticize the media for portraying the 1992 LA riots as exclusively a black/Korean phenomenon.  What was (and is) the role of the media in determining perceptions of Asian Americans and of race relations in general?

2.  The interviewees in the film present two interpretations of the motives behind the attacks on Korean-owned shops: 1) that the attacks were racially motivated and a consequence of accumulated black-white tension and 2) that they were driven by economics and a result of the growing disparity between mostly African Americans enmeshed in poverty, unemployment, and police brutality and their increasingly more successful Korean neighbors.  Which interpretation do you find more persuasive, and why?  Can it be that both were causal?

3.  If it is accurate that one of the sources of the rioting was accumulated hostility between blacks and whites, how did that become transformed into black versus Korean violence?

4.  What role do government institutions have when dealing with situations like Sa-I-Gu?  Some of the people in this film express bitterness over what they perceive to be police indifference — saying that all the National Guard and police forces were protecting Beverly Hills and Japantown, and that Korean shopowners were merely told, "I hope you have insurance."  Because Korean shopowners were clearly targeted, suffering nearly half of the losses during the rioting, should the government pay reparations?  Why or why not?

5.  One of the results of the LA riots was the shift in power dynamics within the Korean American community, with more outspoken younger people who represent the "1.5" and "2.0" generations speaking for the community and demanding a voice.  Who should speak for a particular community?  What role should age and gender play?  How can voices such as these women’s voices be better heard?

6.  In the aftermath of the riots, many Koreans left South Central LA, while those who stayed have focused much of their attention on improving their relations with African Americans.  As Asians have become the fastest growing minority group in large parts of the country, what are some ways that you can suggest improving community dialogues and interactions?

Asian American Filmography ExEAS