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Hooray Korea: Happy Cleaners

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An exciting companion to Maneri and an echo of Parasite's greatness. Prime

Happy Cleaners

Owning a dry-cleaning business in NYC is challenging enough; a Korean-American family with intergenerational dynamics ramps up that challenge. Such is the chaotic Happy Cleaners, a Korean buffet of clashing ambitions set against an abiding family love that refuses to cave to the parochial interests of strong Mom (Hyang-hwa Lim), lovingly-lost Dad (Charles Ryu), sharp sister Hyunny (Yeena Sung),          and rebellious Kevin (Yun Jeong).

After 17 years in the same place, the family must give it up because of a lease not renewed by a young, brash landlord who sees them as a drag on his progressive ambitions. Not that that is enough disruption, for Kevin has dropped out of school, Hyunny has a boyfriend similarly out of school, Dad can achieve only fixing a boiler while trying to rein in his son, and Mom just tries what she best can do with the children, weak husband, and a losing business.

Amidst these common challenges of an immigrant family are truths for displaced persons of all persuasions—how to fight the urge to be deferential to the ruling class (in this case the white landlord and a brash young white woman who pretty much extorts compensation from dad over questionable damage to her dress) and how to keep a family together during parlous times for people of color from foreign countries.

The answer to survival turns on love, just as it does in another fine Korean-American tale, Minari. Happy Cleaners is more edgy and confrontative; Minari is quieter. Both echo the greatness of last year’s Oscar winner, Parasite. Koreans know how to keep the emphasis on theme while telling an entertaining story that doesn’t play to the star power of its actors.

It’s about sweet survival and the characters who survive with love.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, is host of WCBE's programs It's Movie Time and Cinema Classics, and the podcasts Back Talk and Double Take. Contact him at johndesando52@gmail.com.