Happy Cleaners (USA, 2021)

A family must come together in the hardest of times in this very excellent dramedy from the team of Peter S. Lee and Julian Kim.

The Choi family in Flushing, Queens are going through a dilemma. Kevin, the son of the family, has dropped out of college and decides he is moving to Los Angeles to work at a food truck. Daughter Hyunna works as a nurse and is helping to pay for her parents’ rent. Mr. and Mrs. Choi have run a local dry-cleaning business, Happy Cleaners, for seventeen years. When they learn the son of their former landlord has taken over the ownership of the properties, they begin to fear the worst and must do what it takes to keep the business open.

Things however are not so easy. As Kevin continues to make his intentions known, Hyunna is having issues in terms of her relationship with boyfriend Danny, who like Kevin, has dropped out of college. In a last-ditch effort to save the business, Mr. and Mrs. Choi have offered to help another business with their outfits and learning of the situation, Kevin offers to serve as their delivery man. Things start to look up until a series of events threatens to destroy everything once and for all.

This film from Peter S. Lee and Julian Kim (who co-wrote the screenplay with Kat Kim) is about the American dream and the struggles to keep achieving it through the eyes of an Asian-American family. All the members of the Choi family want is to live their dreams and show that they have the will to make it in America. The film portrays a realistic approach to things about the Choi family.

Hyunghwa Lim and Charles Ryu are great as the parents, especially Lim, who spends most of the film doing nothing but harass her kids into being successful but on her terms. From the beginning of the film, it is clear Mrs. Choi is a character who may wants what’s best for her kids. However, her approach to things is more related to a Tiger Mom until reality sits in and she is forced to face a reality check like never before. As for Ryu, he plays the father as a man set on pride, thinking he can do it all until like the mother, reality has sunk in and he’s forced to face it.

Yun Jeong turns out a great performance as the outspoken, dream-living Kevin. He makes his intentions clear from the opening scene of the film. What’s great about Kevin is that he’s not only blunt and to the point, despite his intentions, he does remain loyal to the family. He’s especially more caring of his grandmother, played by Jaehee Wilder. Kevin also shows off some wicked cooking skills as his interesting in running his own food truck inspires him to learn his family recipes from both his mother and grandmother. The cooking scenes is reminiscent of the 2014 film Chef the way the cameras are set up and the scenes are shot.

Yeena Sung also brings a sense of emotional range as Hyunna, the daughter of the family who struggles with her job to help her family as well as keep her relationship with Danny, played by Donald Chang. What is very interesting about Danny is while he is pretty much hated by Mrs. Choi, he is no different than the Chois as he struggles to keep his family keeping the American dream. He has a very powerful scene with Sung looking at the Manhattan skyline and talking how his parents also looked for the dream only to result in so much struggle that his father had been gone as a result and fears the worst about his mother if he doesn’t help out his family.

Happy Cleaners is a very realistic look at the struggles people endure to achieve the American Dream, with an excellent cast taking the reins. This is one movie everyone should check out.

WFG RATING: A

Passion River Films presents a KoreanAmerican.org/Jebby Productions film. Directors: Peter S. Lee and Julian Kim. Producers: Peter S. Lee, Julian Kim, Kat Kim, Theresa Choh-Lee, and H.J. Lee. Writers: Peter S. Lee, Julian Kim, and Kat Kim. Cinematography: Gordon Yu. EditingL Julian Kim.

Cast: Yun Jeong, Yeena Sung, Charles Ryu, Hyanghwa Lim, Donald Chang, Jaehee Wilder, Jamie Jungah Kim, Jaeki Cho, Dax Richardson.

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