HAPPY CLEANERSDirected by Julian Kim, Peter S. Lee
Filmmakers in attendance.
Immigrant families and first-generation kids battle over cultural traditions while undergoing assimilation to an adopted homeland. HAPPY CLEANERS dissects this fraught experience through the lens of a contemporary Korean American family and their struggles to save their dry cleaning business in the diverse neighborhood of Flushing, Queens NY.
Young millennials Kevin (Yun Jeong) and his sister Hyunny (Yeena Sung) live with their parents in NYC’s quintessential melting pot. The family owns a dry-cleaning business with an uncertain future after the property is sold to a new landlord. As their parents face a financially unstable future, Kevin and Hyunny must navigate their respective adulting towards futures their parents did not foresee for them. With a LA move in the works for Kevin and a stalled six-year relationship for Hyunny, the Choi family looks to each other for love, support, and a way out.
First-time directors Julian Kim and Peter S. Lee, who also co-wrote the script together, tenderly tackle the subject of growing up in an immigrant household. This is a personal story for both Kim and Lee, evident in the characters’ interactions and the humility underlying the writing. Much like real families, there are times of happiness and ease countered by times of arguments and apologies. HAPPY CLEANERS doesn’t shy away from showing all of it and giving us a glimpse at how a real Korean American family navigates the world. Yun Jeong and Yeena Sung each know their familial roles, playing the duality of being Korean and American with a specificity that adds the necessary emotional weight. Hyanghwa Lim and Charles Ryu, as Mom and Dad, are devastatingly authentic and earnest, fighting to hold on to tradition and their family.
Reconciliation comes in many forms, but most commonly through acceptance – of the things which we cannot change. What is beautiful about HAPPY CLEANERS is that, by the end, the film doesn’t posit that everything is great for the Choi family. What it does, and does well, is show how the growth of each character impact everyone else around them. —Jeremy Gaudette
Co-presented with Community Partners: Asian Americans Advancing Justice| Los Angeles, WAPOW Magazine
Director: Julian Kim, Peter S. Lee
Writer: Kat Kim, Julian Kim, Peter S. Lee
Producer: Kat Kim, Julian Kim, Peter S. Lee, Hj Lee, Theresa Choh-Lee