By Charles Lam
Northwest Asian Weekly
LA-based rapper Jonathan Park, better known by his stage name Dumbfoundead, has spent the majority of 2013 touring across the United States and Europe, but that hasn’t slowed down his most recent project. Park’s new web series “Run DMZ” premiered in June and is off to a strong start.
The series takes place in a neighborhood based on Los Angeles’ Koreatown. Park’s character helps run a small Korean barbecue restaurant with his family when one day a large chain from North Koreatown, Ken Jong’s Grill, moves across the street and tries to buy his business. Uncooperative, Park’s restaurant is ransacked by Ken Jong’s agents, setting off a chain of revenge, romance, and betrayal.
The series is part of YouTube’s push for longer-form original content. Produced by Steel Wool Media for the LOUD YouTube Network backed by former NBC Head of Programming Ben Silverman, Run DMZ is a proof of concept hoping to make a splash in a scene where the most popular channels almost take pride in amateurishness.
The show’s credit list is full of bright-eyed youths. DMZ is directed by Jackson Adams, a 25-year-old director/writer whose previous experience includes music videos and other web series. He’s collaborated extensively with viral hip-hop artist George Watsky, who Park supported on tour earlier this year. Park and Adams are both writing, and Park heads up a stable of still-green actors.
Despite their inexperience — or, some might say, because of it — the crew behind the show is putting out some great work.
Adam’s camera work is modern, with touches of shaky cam and heavy on the pans, zooms, and jumps — a nice contrast to the single-frame-heavy world of YouTube. The imagery is a touch grimy, just like the show’s setting and subject matter, but without losing the polished feel that is missing from most other online endeavors.
The writing is top notch, cuttingly funny and incredibly punchy. Though the vernacular is most likely too vulgar for some, the satire resonates perfectly with the show’s intended audience and is topical without being obnoxious. Park rose to prominence as a joke-cracking battle rapper, and his comedy shines on the new medium.
The strongest part of the show is, rightfully, the music. Composed of original score and some of the beats behind Park’s tracks, the soundtrack is omnipresent. The tone of each scene is driven by the music, whether foreboding, suave, or adorable. There’s hardly a moment without background music, and whatever silence there is is used very effectively to add dramatic effect.
The weakest link in the chain might be the acting. Park, while a brilliant improviser, can at times come off as robotic and ungenuine. Performances from his supporting actors can have the opposite problem. Even when over-the-top delivery is done tongue in cheek, it can still be too over the top.
There is a bright side. Park’s right and left hand men, Breezy Lovejoy and Jose Rios, both deliver natural performances with impeccable timing. Nearly always situated over Park’s shoulders, their banter and commentary provides the needed contrast to Park’s straight man, propelling the show along. Both have been featured on Dumbfoundead tracks, and their chemistry translates perfectly to the computer screen.
Two episodes in and four more to go, the show’s hardest task now is winning over the YouTube masses who are accustomed to watching videos often one third the length of each episode. If their attention can be kept and their viewership won over, well, they might just be left dumbfounded. (end)
Charles Lam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.