8mm Review: ‘Happy Cleaners’

Happy Cleaners (2019)
Hyanghwa Lim, Charles Ryu, Yun Jeong, Yeena Sung. Written by
Kat Kim, Julian Kim, and Peter S. Lee. Directed by Julian Kim and Peter S. Lee

If it seems (and it does) that new Asian American filmmakers keep making the same film about generational tension, cultural identity, and familial values, I suppose it’s because we continue to deal with these issues, or because there are as many ways to work through them as there are immigrant families: my half-Japanese experience in Honolulu isn’t like someone else’s Taiwanese experience in Southern California, and they are both stories worth telling.

For these reasons, I came away from Happy Cleaners encouraged, because if nothing else, the film’s familiar conflicts for new generations of Asian Americans mean we’re still coming over, still adding color and flavor to a country that appears alternately to have come a long way in embracing us and to have regressed so we’re not being embraced at all.

Happy Cleaners is owned by the Choi family in Flushing, New York, and despite the family’s hard work, the struggling dry cleaner may find itself without a lease in a few months, thanks to a weasely new landlord from the Weasely Caucasian Landlord multipack they must sell at Movieland Costco. Daughter Hyunny is some kind of medical professional, and college-aged son Kevin (backward baseball cap, one earring in each lobe) works in a food truck with aspirations of opening his own truck on the West Coast.

Arguments abound. Kevin fights with Hyunny. Hyunny fights with her boyfriend Danny. Dad fights with Mom, and Mom fights with everyone. Chances are you’ve seen this all before, if not in a movie then for sure in real life. Graduate from college first and then you can do whatever you want. My family will never accept you if you continue to work as a janitor. Do you want to end up like me, married to someone who can barely support his family?

I admit I said, “Oh, this again” more than once during the first act of the movie, but the film won me over with very good acting by all four principals and solid filmmaking everywhere else. There are a few self-aware shots, but mostly the camera work is well done. Lighting and sound quality put this well above most other Asian American indie films I’ve seen. Mostly, the directors don’t overdirect, the actors don’t overact, the writers don’t overwrite, and the soundtrack doesn’t oversoundtrack, although the Food Network style sound effects and cutting-board close-ups get a little out of hand more than once.

The use of language in this film sets it apart even from other Korean American movies. I appreciate the writers’ willingness to give us full-on Korean through much of the film, including what the movie’s Kickstarter page calls “a mix of Korean and English … we warmly label ‘Konglish’.” There’s nothing wrong with the Korean-accented English dialogue we usually get (it’s one of my favorite accents), but it’s great to hear the family speak the language these families speak.

I am most impressed by the writers’ delicate touch with conflict resolution. The fights themselves may be pyrotechnic at times, but the make-up scenes are gentle, sympathetic, and utterly believable. One-on-one, characters share a beer, or a bite of rice, or a whole meal, looking right at each other without overdoing the apologies, or sitting alongside each other, or nudging one another with a gentle toe. Physical proximity is an act of love, strong enough to heal the casual wounds of being in a family, something I’ve not seen much of in popular media. And props to the actors for not overdoing these excellent scenes. Shout-outs go especially to Charles Ryu as Dad and Yeena Sung as Hyunny.

Happy Cleaners is a well-made movie, a slight improvement on what seems to have become a genre: the Asian American Generations Movie. Despite my jadedness, I got teary at least twice, so everyone’s doing something right. A fraction of a bonus point for being set in Flushing, where a good chunk of the German-Italian-Irish side of my family lived.

7 out of 10. Check it out.

Happy Cleaners screens at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Wednesday, May 8 at 9:15 p.m. The filmmakers will be in attendance.

It also screens at CAAMFest Saturday, May 11 at 2:40 p.m. and Monday, May 13 at 9:10 p.m. Director Julian Kim is scheduled to attend the May 11 screening.

LAAPFF 2013: Mix-cultural Asians Find Their Roots

EDITORS NOTE from Joz: 8Asians is proud to be a community co-presenter of various films at the 2013 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, presented by Visual Communications.

One common theme that has been echoing in some of the documentaries presented in Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival is that mix-raced Asians either in the states or in an Asian country, or Asian immigrants are trying to find out who they are and what country they represent. The identity searching is a ever-green theme in the Asian American community which has 60 percent first-generation immigrants and the largest percentage of interracial marriage.

In the documentary Hafu, it explored the life of mix-raced Japanese in Japan. The film showed that about 2 million foreigners were living in Japan in 2010, constituting around 30,000 international marriages. Children from these marriages are called Hafu, a Japanese word evolved from the English word “half,” indicating half Japanese and half foreigner.

Japan strictly upholds the ideology of “one nation, one culture, one race.” It outcasts the mix-raced Japanese, who grew up there and speak the language perfectly. The film has profiled different mix-raced Japanese from all kinds of racial combination, background, age and both genders. It provides a deep and well-rounded view about the struggle they have and the questions they raise about their country and themselves. All of their stories are revolving around one question–“Who am I?”

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‘Stateless,’ Documentary about Vietnamese Refugees Plays at LAAPFF 2013

EDITORS NOTE from Joz: 8Asians is proud to be a community co-presenter of various films at the 2013 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, presented by Visual Communications.


Stateless is a documentary in Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival that tells stories of different Vietnamese refugees residing in the Philippine and the painful process of waiting for the resettlement interviews from the U.S. government. It showed the painful plight of these stateless refugees who banked their future on the interviews, and the risk to be repatriated to Vietnam if they failed.

After the Vietnam War, many people in Cambodia, Laos, and especially Vietnam became refugees in the late 1970s and 1980s, after the liberation of Saigon. In Vietnam, the communist government sent supporters of the foreign forces and the old government in the South to re-education camps, and others to “new economic zones.” To flee the country, many people bought places in large boats that held 400 passengers. Others organized smaller groups to go on makeshift rafts crudely made of wood, or boarded fishing boats. Many families were split up as they couldn’t afford to send all family members out. Many refugees resided in the Philippine after they left.

A chance to freedom finally came when the U.S. government sent officials to interview these refugees in the Philippine and resettle those who pass the interview in the west. The film profiled several refugees and brought us to their journey and took a first person look into their desire of freedom. Refugee Phan Duc Tham said he had to sleep with a dog just to keep warm when he was describing his heartrending life as a stateless refugee.

The story is powerful, but the film structure left a lot of confusion. Despite the interviews of different refugees, there is hardly any document, video, or actuality. It provides an effective sense of the living environment of the refugees, but there is not sufficient evidence of the kind of life they have been through beyond some old photos and words of mouth.

Bitter tears from refugees are touching, but the redundant street scenes of Manila and the moving camera creating dizzy shots only strengthens the belief that the producer didn’t have much actuality, which later confirmed by director Duc Nguyen that they didn’t have enough time to shoot. The lack of materials also left many questions about the resettlement interviews, a milestone for these refugees and a changing point of the film. What questions were asked? What documents were required? What were the challenges? What were the odds?
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Gays In Asia Hidden In A “Perfect” Marriage: ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ at LAAPFF 2013

EDITORS NOTE from Joz: 8Asians is proud to be a community co-presenter of various films at the 2013 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, presented by Visual Communications.


Among the many heavy topics in the films of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival from May 2 to 12, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow provides a touch of humor in a bitter story of a gay man trying to hide his sexuality in a marriage with a woman.

After marring to Ah Feng for nine years, Weichung has never really enjoyed a single day of his marriage or family life, because of his secret that he is gay. He used this marriage which looked perfect in an outsider’s eyes to hide his sexual orientation. To others, he was a loving husband, a hard working man and a caring father. He tried to stay away from his old circle of gay friends in order to maintain his marriage, or the façade he built just to shelter his secret.

“Nobody will find out, because I am already married,” Weichung told his old friend Stephen, a wedding photographer who is also gay and married to a lesbian.

Things changed when his wife Ah Feng wanted a second child. Subsequently, questions were raised in Ah Feng’s mind when she found out Weichung’s strange behaviors and his effort to avoid having sex with her. At the beginning, she thought her husband was having an affair.

Continue reading “Gays In Asia Hidden In A “Perfect” Marriage: ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ at LAAPFF 2013″