Opening with an erupting argument, Happy Cleaners instantly puts viewers into the lives of a Korean American family in their quest for the almost unattainable American dream. The Choi family runs a struggling dry-cleaning business in Flushing, New York City. With a new landlord and the lease up in two months, money has never been tighter. The tension only rises as the family faces the struggles of living as immigrants and the cost of following your passion.
The mother and father of the Choi family (Hyanghwa Lim and Charles Ryu) bought their dry-cleaning business ten years ago. Their son Kevin (Yun Jeong) dreams of life as a food truck owner, and daughter Hyunny (Yeena Sung) pays many of the family bills herself. As the new landlord is hoping to replace them with a slick, stylish business, Kevin reluctantly puts his dreams on hold to help out. Resentment begins to elevate as the Chois are consistently on the verge of imploding. Hyunny is stuck supporting herself, her boyfriend, and her family as stress encapsulates her, even in peaceful moments. Despite realities, the Choi family fights hard for their place in this world and for a dream that keeps slipping away.
“As the new landlord is hoping to replace them with a slick, stylish business, Kevin reluctantly puts his dreams on hold to help out.”
Happy Cleaners has a superb opening; beginning with a war of an argument, viewers learn everything they need to know about the Choi family, their relationships, and their motivations. All of these revelations occur inside the first minute, launching a nuanced film about a family just trying to get by. It’s a story of tradition, expectations, and – most of all – family that never shies away from how messy life can be.
Directors Julian Kim and Peter S. Lee, who wrote the movie with Kat Kim, beyond opening with a superb first scene, build upon those characters, creating an authentic story with fantastic subtle moments. Small things like switching between English and Korean, or the way Kevin’s love of cooking is portrayed, elevate a trope-heavy narrative into a more than enjoyable watch.
The film talks about immigration, family, the relationship between kids and their parents, but, ultimately, it’s about acceptance. It’s a movie about accepting who people are, which showcases authenticity in every family interaction. Viewers can relate with every member of the Choi family and form genuine compassion for them. The film does tend to “tell” more than “show” in some cases. However, Happy Cleaners still delivers an engaging story with great characters at its core. Plus, the shots of food will have every foodie dying to try some new Korean recipes.
"…about accepting who people are..."