“You’re an American. You don’t know. I’m a Korean, and we want you to be educated and do our business. ” So begins the first scene of a sharply reported but uneven-paced drama that begins with the murder of an Asian-American shop owner in Iowa.
The case illuminates the isolation of a particular small Iowa community, with vast majorities of whites and minorities, still living in the past and then encountering the bigotry and internalization of social and racial biases that seep into the present.
The title, “House of Cards,” refers to the Missouri Sunset bar of the 1950s, not the more familiar TV original — just another example of how readily network series, now blessed by digital technology, are transplanting their original settings and characters to other regions and settings.
To be sure, “America’s Castle” could use some brushstrokes to widen its dramatic, cultural and social scope.
The film’s narrator, a well-meaning but unrealistic social worker played by B.D. Wong, reassures a white journalist that the community in which the drama takes place doesn’t fear or hate blacks, and will seek the killer only after the killer is identified.
And while the shoot-’em-up social drama acts as a warning to the current political climate — a hopeful and defiant African-American is killed in a community where all are wronged — it occasionally flashes back to what happened decades earlier when a Korean shop owner was also slain. It also captures tensions among the store’s Korean owners, recalling the on-again, off-again tensions that have existed in rural Iowa for decades.
Another Chinese-American played by Ka Leanne Taylor, addresses the movie as an unwelcome intrusion into the community, along with her concerns for her Pakistani boyfriend.
“It is time for us to discuss race relations. I’m already the Korean lady and I get treated like that,” she says, rolling her eyes at her Korean counterparts.
“It gets between the Han and the Sams and nobody else. You can’t show your face there,” she complains, and is upset that one of her Korean-American neighbors shoots at the garage roofing trailer where she works when she uses a broom to clear snow.
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Laura Innes, who wrote “The Blind Side,” presents some scenes from 1950s history, such as a publicity photo of an unknown black athlete in a winning team’s T-shirt, a black friend and a newly released white footballer.
Actor Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays a character named Edna in the film, also makes an appearance as a baby in a New Orleans dentist’s office.
“But that’s just tradition,” she calmly tells him.
And the film posits what the verdict in the 1988 trial of more than a dozen black defendants for the 1992 murders of Dorothy and Richard Collins Jr. might have been had the four white family members, including two sons, who had lived in the Iowa town testified against the other defendants — and been heard by a jury.
These key scenes could not have occurred to the producers because they don’t have a built-in sense of place and time.