HomeAsian AmericansLiquor Store Dreams: an intimate portrait of family businesses

Liquor Store Dreams: an intimate portrait of family businesses

by Jana Monji

(Editor’s Note: This story was originally posted on May 15, 2023. It is being republished today, July 6, 2023 because Liquor Store Dreams will air on PBS on Monday, July 10 at 10 PM Eastern/9 Central on POV. It will also stream on PBS.org and the PBS app for a limited time.)

In her first feature-length film Liquor Store Dreams, So Yun Um expands upon her short Liquor Store Babies and gives a flawed but intimate portrait of two Liquor Store Babies and their families trying to navigate a changing cultural landscape.

So Yun Um was a liquor store baby who with her sister was raised as her parents worked 15-hour days, 365 days a year at their liquor store in Long Beach, California. Despite the long hours and hard work, her father, Hae Sup is grateful for his small business.

“I’m not educated. I’m not good at English. I don’t have much to boast about,” Hae Sup says in Korean (translated into English subtitles).

For So Yun Um, the reality of her family’s life and that of her friend, Danny, a second-generation liquor store baby, differs from the “angry Korean owner” movie stereotype that is both “farcical and disposable.”

So Yun Um was ten when her parents purchased their liquor store. Both she and her sister have worked there and not all of their experiences were pleasant, but their store was looted or burned down. Danny was nine when his family opened their Skid Row liquor store, in 1993–a year after the LA Riots. Yet both families are acutely aware of the problematic cross-cultural misunderstandings.

As one might expect from Korean parents, her parents wish she was married and her father would prefer that she had a regular job instead of making films. On the other hand,  Danny seems to have moved on to better things. Danny had personally delivered his resume to the Nike Headquarters by running from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon–1,268 miles in 45 days. Although he was hired, he soon found himself flying back to Los Angeles twice a month to help out his family with their liquor store. When his father died, he quit his Nike dream job to work at the Skid Row liquor store. He had plans to promote better understanding between his customers and his family, but then the pandemic began and both liquor stores faced pandemic-related problems.

While I wish So Yun Um had more objectively explored her father’s sentiments about guns and about the looting during two different riots–one in 1992 due to the verdict of the Rodney King trial in Simi Valley and then in the Black Lives Matter activism of 2020, this documentary is a very personal, intimate film about two families, providing real faces to stand in contrast to the stereotype.

Liquor Store Dreams is an engaging story about dreams achieved, dreams tragically lost and about So Yun Um, who says, “I’m a liquor store baby and I have big dreams.” With this debut documentary, she is off to a promising start.

Liquor Store Dreams had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in June of last year. It also screened last year at the Busan International Film Festival, the Hawai’i International Film Festival and the San Diego Asian Film Festival. This year at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, it won the Local Jury Award. The film was screened on Wednesday, 10 May 2023 at the Gardena Cinema in Gardena, Ca. This documentary will be available to buy or rent on Google Play, Amazon, and iTunes from 26 Mary 2023.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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