Happy Cleaners, 2019.
Directed by Julian Kim and Peter S. Lee.
Starring Yun Jeong, Donald Chang, Yeena Sung, Hwang-hwa Lim, Charles Ryu, Dax Richardson, Jamie Jungah Kim.
The Choi family struggle to keep their business and family relationships together in the face of modern American challenges.
A sensitively drawn account of the trials and tribulations of the immigration experience, and the first generation Korean-American millennials who struggle with their parent’s backgrounds, Happy Cleaners brings an objective focus to modern American city life.
The Choi kids, Kevin (Yun Jeong) and his sister Hyunny (Yeena Sung), live with their parents in Flushing, New York. The family run a dry-cleaning business and have a lease with the owners of the property. After the property is sold, the family’s lease is not renewed.
All four members of the family have their own personal challenges to take care of as well; Kevin is about to embark on a trip to LA while Hyunny tries to keep questions about potentially marrying her long-term boyfriend at arm’s length. Kevin and Hyanghwa Lim and Charles Ryu as their mother and father brilliantly portray the stress of trying to negotiate a confusing home and business environment.
In one scene Hyunny eloquently describes her and her sibling’s experience as Korean-Americans. She calls the hyphen a bridge between the home of their parents and the culture of the USA. It is an effectively poetic part of the film, with a real emotional resonance.
This kind of looking into the real day to day lives of the family brings a documentary-style gaze to the whole production. The plot and events of the story also meld well with style, and the performances of the actors brilliantly bring out the dilemmas that the characters have to contend with. This is a world of different pressures and competing motivations, not often displayed so honestly on screen.
In this way, the film, developed in connection with KoreanAmericanStory.org, captures a snapshot of Korean-American life that otherwise might not have been seen by the wider population. A moving and entertaining ‘slice of life’ examination of the immigration experience, and what comes after for the families of those immigrants.
Happy Cleaners will have its World Premiere at the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and is also screening at the 2019 CAAMFest in San Francisco
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.