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Happy Cleaners: The Limits and Possibilities of a Hyphen Cinema

A Conversation with Directors Julian Kim and Peter Lee on Hometowns and K-Dramas

Ying Yu Situ

Alex Wen

While watching Happy Cleaners, my mind kept drifting to this photograph by Annie Ling of a Chinatown tenant sleeping on his fire escape, the blanket half-kicked off to reveal his bare legs. Below him, the city is smudged with the soft incandescence of traffic as dusk sets in. Perhaps it’s misplaced to compare the two as Ling’s photo series seeks to document the “floating population” who rent 64-square-feet cubicles in an old tenement building (and who were evicted multiple times and fought to keep their homes), but when Hyunnie and her mom in Happy Cleaners go for a walk after the family gets into a screaming match about Kevin, the son’s, future ambitions, I tap into the same kind of feeling: the want to leave a cramped space and to find a little breathing room. The two women of the family set off into the night while the air is still wet with summer’s heat, and they eat Melona from the neighborhood H Mart to capture the feeling of being free, whether from a difficult living situation or the psychic smother of inherited immigrant obligations. 

In Happy Cleaners, the Choi family’s livelihoods are threatened when a new landlord takes over and wants to shut down the family’s laundromat. Filmed mostly with close-ups and quick cuts in their Flushing home or the laundromat, the four members of the family jostle against each other in their tight environs and the varied disappointments they hold for each other’s decisions and for their lives in America. Like many contemporary Asian American productions, there’s a generosity behind the process, as directors Julian Kim and Peter Lee have used their first feature film to create opportunities for others by hiring an all-Asian cast and commissioning local artists to create a film score that propels the film along from scene to scene, like a music video. Intentional about creating community in their work, their film pulls from a repertoire of recognizable themes, references, and experiences that can be tethered together in a braid of identity that most Korean Americans and Asian Americans would recognize. Some may say that this isn’t very challenging work for it remains in the zone of comfort food, but its most rewarding moments are won when the soundtrack pauses and the film dwells in stillness. I sat up, jilted in my seat, when Mr. Choi heaves a truck door shut. He stands there, breathing, with his back to the camera and his graying scalp showing. The family has just lost their laundromat and after a long search, he’s found a bit gig. Father of the family, saddled with the responsibility of meeting the immigrant metric of success: having the financial means to give your children the freedom to pursue their dreams, even if those dreams seem frivolous (like running away to L.A to open a food truck, as Kevin wants). Does he think himself a failure at this moment? 

Displacement, which often gets simplified into white people bringing in their non-culture of Starbucks and Whole Foods into communities of color, is felt most deeply in this moment for its labor implications. When businesses close and the people of the community lose an independent means of work, they return to wage capitalism, which provides pittance for “unskilled” labor and makes it more difficult for them to recover upward mobility. Failure is internalized, even when their troubles come from a system meant to squeeze them this way. Happy Cleaners’ characters are frank about their economic struggles. Hyunnie’s boyfriend struggles with finishing college because he takes on multiple part-time jobs, including a janitorial position, to care for his family. Hyunnie passes half her paycheck to her family each week to make rent. I recognized these Flushing youth who graduate from high school and go straight to the workforce to be cashiers and servers, college not quite an option. There’s necessary representation here for the reality of Flushing youth and for correcting the record on poverty within the Asian community. 

At a Community Board Hearing against a controversial luxury rezoning in Flushing, I found myself staring down smug Asian yuppies in periwinkle blue button downs who were seated at the developer’s end of the board room table. They feigned unity with the Asian community in Flushing and proposed a plan for bettering the neighborhood. I wonder if they would change course if they ever saw Annie Ling’s photographs or watched Happy Cleaners. Or if they would press on, comforted by the familiar depictions of culture in Happy Cleaners and struggles they could once lay claim to, but that they had lifted themselves out of through hard work and education, the very rise that many first-generation, working class parents want for their children. What would the Chois think of this? Would they only understand when it came for them and their property? 

Most interestingly, Happy Cleaners doesn’t necessarily provide catharsis. The social problems undergirding the fabric of their lives and the way these problems embed themselves into the character’s psyches still exist, but the parents reluctantly accept their children’s dreams and lives, rooting for their happiness so that they can all still sit down together to eat at the dinner table. For every Kevin doggedly pushing for what they think is their dream, there are just as many who relinquish that from under the boot crush of capitalism. As Julian and Peter say, they wanted to honor the people that they came from. Perhaps the youth I know can gather courage from this film, whether to confront their families or to confront their desires. 

Julian and Peter were gracious with their time, and we talked about their memories of Flushing, the 90s K-dramas that informed their style, and the lifelong creative partnership that’s still going on between the two. Their passion for creating a world ripe with space for Asian American cultural production is clear.

Ying Yu Situ: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. How are you? 

Julian Kim: I’m good, I’m good. How are you?

YYS: Yeah, I'm good. I had coffee for the first time in a few months because I needed to be really productive. So I was just amped up on coffee and listening to BTS and cranking out my work. And I was like, is this what it means to be alive?  

JK: [laughs] Are you from Queens? Are you familiar with Flushing?

YYS: Yeah. I grew up in New York, but I actually work in Flushing. I've been there for the past three years working. I'd love to hear more about y'all and who you are. 

JK: My name's Julian. I grew up basically in Queens, I was born and raised in Flushing, I was very interested in art at a young age and got into filmmaking when I was 14 and made movies ever since. Just for fun in the beginning and wanted to pursue this as a professional career. I met with Peter, he was my childhood friend, and we basically "let's make movies together" and ever since, I think something just clicked between us. There was some kind of creative energy between us in this partnership and we kind of just made movies together and it became our thing. [laughs] One thing led to another, we made a lot of short films in the beginning and now Happy Cleaners being our first feature, we're excited to say that it's being distributed in February, digitally. Aside from that I work at ABC News as my day job and yeah, trying to make more movies and stuff like that.

Peter Lee: I also grew up in Flushing, so pretty much everything Julian said lines up as well. We're just childhood friends who wanted to make movies together and just kind of stuck with it and here we are. I'm currently freelancing like most other filmmakers are doing and just seeing where this year leads us. 

YYS: It's super cool to learn that you're childhood friends and that you had a creative energy since childhood. I'm curious how that has shifted over time. Have you felt that same kind of vitality as you've gotten older? What's the difference between making films when you're 14 to presently?

JK: I think a lot of the benefits of having someone like Peter by my side is that we grow together. Having a childhood friend doesn't mean you're having to learn things about people, but when the new next steps [come] in life, we're in that process together, we live that together and we're sharing the same kinds of struggles of starting a family, getting married, going out of your nest, working, and career. We can share that easily, openly. It just made it that much easier to open up and utilize that to our creative process of making film and telling stories. A lot of the times it always starts out as heart-to-heart moments, like a chat with Peter, what we're going through, what kinds of struggles we're having, things we're contemplating then we're just like, hey, let's turn it into a story. I think it's very relevant to share. 

PL: Yup, yup that's how it works. [laughs]

YYS: Film has been a long part of your life. Do you have any film influences? Why film versus any other medium?

PL: That's a tough question that always comes up, we always have a different answer. One area that we do credit is Korean dramas before the popularity of K-Drama became a thing now. I'm talking about stuff from the 90s, early 2000s, what we grew up on. Stylistically you can comment on it, whatnot, but there's a term to that and I think it's because you consume so much of it that subconsciously it's kind of there when we make things. We're not intentionally trying to create something but it just comes out. We did go to film school and we did watch a whole lot of different films from different eras, but ultimately whatever we like, it just kind of stuck and came out. It's a very roundabout answer to say we don't have a specific director or style we're emulating. But I think specifically for me, why film, I think a lot of storytelling and different mediums, there's power of transporting us to different worlds, but there's something very attractive about “you write something” (that's one draft, you write it), but I think there's something about “you get to take it to the next step of actually building this world.” With real people and being able to share what you're seeing in your head with the audience. I think there's something really attractive about that. And Julian, he has an animation background and he went from that to filmmaking. 

JK: Yeah, I originally wanted to be a cartoonist and animator so I went to high school to study that. But once I started going to the program and the classes, I was like this is a lot of work. [laughs] I don't want to do this. So the lazy man's thing is to get some people to act it out for you. That's kind of why I got into filmmaking and I realized there's the actual creative process of working with people and having to tell this world and story with others. It's really great, I really enjoyed that. That's what attracted me to filmmaking. And obviously a lot of influences like the big names, like the big American filmmakers that we obviously really enjoy. But like what Peter said, what we connected to the most were watching Korean dramas with our parents. It's like the Korean-style soap operas and back then, it was like a studio and three cameras, studio setting and you just shoot everything—

PL: [laughs] Like a play—

JK: Yeah exactly, like a play. In these little exaggerated moments, a little craziness, but at the core of it, what you're watching is a human story and a family story and that's what really attracted us. The conclusion has always been something about love, whether it's tragic or positive. I think that was something I gravitated towards and that Koreans really know how to do well.

YYS: Would you recommend any 90s K-Dramas for someone trying to understand what that style is like?

JK: I think it'd be hard for them to watch [laughs] to be honest.

YYS: [laughs] Yeah, it’s not like the Netflix big productions. 

PL: The evolution is so different. The stuff from the 90s definitely has more of the soap opera-feel versus the popular stuff now, essentially what Netflix did with the American production. There's a difference between what you see on HBO, Netflix, versus the network stuff. But I think that for me, there's something called “정 때문에” [Because of Jeong], it's an old family one. I don't know where you would even find it. There's a certain word called jeong. There's not even a proper English translation of it, but it's not a romantic love, but love among people. It could be with your neighbor, it could be with your family. It could be among friends but there's something like this love between a fellow human being and it's titled that way. It's, you know, family drama and neighbors getting involved, but there's a very multi-generational aspect there that I remember. 

JK: Do you watch a lot of Korean dramas, Ying?

YYS: [laughs] Not really, but my roommate has been getting really into it. So I did watch Itaewon Class

JK: That was good, that was good—

YYS: And Start Up. I do think Itaewon was the one thing I'll remember from the pandemic, just this bright spot of happiness. Thank you for sharing that context with me, I think that's so interesting. I wonder if you can find those dramas at the Hanyang Mart in Murray Hill where like all the old K-drama DVDs go to die. Maybe you'll find it there.

JK: Oh my god, yeah. [laughs] 

YYS: So why did you want to tell a story set in Flushing? And what are some of your favorite memories of Flushing or Queens?

JK: When Peter and I started making short films we started a series called Flushing web series. They’re basically short stories that are based in Flushing. We tried to put that background and setting while trying to find what kind of stories there could be in our hometown. It's very diverse, it's very eclectic, it's very colorful. You don't often get to see what it's like, you know? So part of it was trying to find our own identity in our hometown and trying to find the meaning of who we are in this community, in this country. We just kind of started making the films and Happy Cleaners was kind of the finale of that chapter. We just said you know what, we're making a feature film. It makes most sense to make an homage to our hometown, set it in Flushing, set it in people and life we're most familiar with and kind of where we grew up in. What we acknowledge is that Korean Americans, when we say Korean American, our blue collar Korean Americans are not every Korean American in this country. There are different kinds of Korean Americans who are fourth-generation Californian, even Jersey Korean Americans are really different from Flushing Korean Americans. And we tried to tell a story that's very endearing to us and very authentic to us. And it just made the most sense to tell it from a Flushing perspective. Everything was already there for us: the backdrop, the setting, the story. 

PL: There is an excitement about sharing our hometown, but I think oftentimes, if there was any snippet of it—what we saw growing up, if it does come up [in pop culture]—it's not presented in the way that we know it. It serves as some seedy background, or somebody from the outside who doesn't have an understanding of this town wants to portray it as a backdrop for something, and that's not something we like. We wanted to share an authentic story of real people here. We don't want somebody else to do it, we want to do it. 

YYS: What's interesting to me is that your characters have this tension around wanting to leave and feeling trapped by the environment they grew up in, but that's in contrast to you both where you're trying to spotlight or bring back this essence of where you grew up. Do you share those feelings with those characters or is there some kind of tension you had to negotiate to get here?

PL: Yeah, that's us. We all wanted to get out—

JK: Yeah, yeah—

PL: We have this love-hate relationship with this place. You know for now it's gotten better, or it's "better,” it's different, but when we were growing up it was a very neglected part of the city. A bunch of Asian immigrants lived there, the city didn't pay any attention to it. Now there's been a lot of work done by different advocacy groups to change things, but at least from childhood, I still remember when it's sundown, don't go north of Northern Boulevard or something like that. Things like that, it was more rough then, that was part of our reality. I think there was so much of an emphasis on why our parents wanted to make sure that we got good education, high paying jobs so we can get the hell out. [laughs] That was kind of what was ingrained, and to an extent, we live in Bayside. So we could leave in a sense, but I think your point about bringing attention to where we grew up— it is a very special time for our generation who grew up in NYC and it just deserved attention and we wanted to show it because there's no judgment on folks who left. I still have desires to try a different city. I think that idea of wanting to leave where you grow up is very universal. How our parents left another country to come here, right? [laughs] But then at the same time, recognizing what that experience did to shape us. That's what we wanted to highlight: have pride in what you come from. You can't deny what you come from. Embrace it.

JK: Yeah, I actually got the chills when you said that 'cause that's exactly what we're experiencing when we wrote this story. And I'll be honest, to be very frank, I hated Flushing. Like I really hated Flushing, there wasn't anything I liked about Flushing, and to start the project was basically in spite of it. What Peter mentions is very true. What people want to run away from or keep distance from is their family situation and the kind of burdens they go through. They're like, I want to escape from this, I want to escape from this immigrant life. I want to live that Soho life, I want to live that Cali life of being free and chill and I don't want to be in this kind of tied down, bogged down, in debt, worried about money situation. And a lot of people, our folks, our peers who grew up in similar situations kind of have the same kind of desires. It's like we don't want to be tied down to this. That's kind of like when you see the trends within our peers, they always apply [to schools] out of state. Obviously there are better schools out of state, but you just want a different scenery, and that was reflected in Kevin a lot. He really wanted to get out of Flushing, he didn't want to stay in this immigrant life obviously. But by the end of the film, whatever you do, there's no real escape from it. You kind of have to own it, embrace it. I think that's what I went through while working on this film, kind of understanding and embracing my upbringing and what Flushing means to me. 

YYS: Thank you for sharing that, I think I resonate with a lot of what you both are saying. I guess my question is more like, what do you think is going to happen with the future of Flushing? Because your film is about displacement. You're also bringing up a very underrepresented history of how Flushing was seen as a dangerous place, or was a dangerous place at times. And, you know, through either developers who speculated on property or different advocacy groups pushing for people's rights, you know, it's transformed over time. And this desire to go away also mirrors a lot of trends in Flushing and also Chinatown where the second generation or third generation doesn't want to carry on the family business. So the kind of immigrant neighborhood that we know is changing very rapidly, because of evictions, high rents, or the fact that kids don't want to continue that trend and want to move up in socioeconomic class. I feel like this film dives into a lot of those tensions. I'm curious about your thoughts on the future of Flushing. 

PL: Well, I think if you just sort of look at the history of Flushing, as we know it, you know, it's always, I think, was a town where all these new new people kind of came through, right? Before like Taiwanese and the Koreans came in the 80s, it was mostly Greek-Italian immigrants that were there. I have a neighbor who grew up in Flushing who went to Flushing High School and used to tell me old stories of what it was before. And he remembers, like, that change, you know, this is before. So it's interesting to have this kind of conversation. And just to see even more nuanced stuff like, like, you know, we're obviously from the era when a lot of the Koreans came in the late 80s, 90s, that era, right? But then, I think, by the time we were going to college, here was diversity within the— the immigrants come from East Asia, where it wasn't just the Koreans, the Taiwanese, but it's now you have like, different regions of China coming in. And then, you have like the Korean-Chinese people coming in, so even there there's so much diversity. And then now if you throw in another layer of wealthier immigrants coming in, displacing the working class, you know, that kind of power play happening. I think all that to say, it'll always be a place of—it's going to change who lives there, because you also can't ignore the fact that every generation the kids are going to leave, just because once you speak the language, you have the American education, you no longer are reliant on this immigrant neighborhood. And so I think that's just a fact of life. And so we will see change. I think what does break my heart is when, when this gentrification happens, there's always a losing side. And it often happens to be the elderly population where, you know, their kids have left, but they have nowhere to go. And you see a lot of cases of people trying to get housing in Flushing, and the elderly apartments have like, ridiculous lines to get in. And that's hard to see. Because when you see good things happening for the neighborhood, because, you know, wealth is coming in. But when there's no safety mechanism put into place to take care of the folks who are struggling, because it shouldn't have to be a zero sum game, but oftentimes it is, and that's what's hard to see. Man, I just don't know how you would fight back. But yeah, people shouldn't have to be displaced.

JK: Yeah, I for one—I can't recognize Flushing when I go there anymore. I think so much changed over like, even the past five years. And part of it, like I'm very happy that that's happening, because I think that's what America should be. It's just like breathing and ever evolving. You know, you look no further than look at Flushing. And you could see that it's constantly the demographics and the people are always changing. But I totally agree with Peter, that oftentimes, like this kind of things happen, where when money comes in, wealth comes in, people get displaced and people who have been around, they get hurt. So I think it's also important that it's important that we embrace the change, we embrace the growing of the neighborhood, but also people who've grown up there, people who are better off to not kind of turn their backs on them. And if they can just, you know, support these people as much as possible. And if you're in a better position to help them, you should, whatever that might be. So that's where I think I stand.

YYS: I'm gonna move into asking about some stylistic choices of the film. I noticed there are a lot of cuts in scenes, especially between conversations, and also a lot of close ups when framing subjects, but also a lot of focus on the close ups of the food preparation. So I'd love to hear about how you chose to visually represent the kind of story you wanted to tell.

JK: Yeah, actually, we were very limited with the kind of shots we can pick because of the space. You try shooting in a New York apartment, that's all you can get out of the shots. [laughs] A lot of those shots you're gonna get are very tight shots. And Peter always was like, “Aww, I wish we had a camera up on the ceiling, looking down on our wide shot.” But you know, we had limitations. But I think you just kind of read into it. It worked in our favor, it mimics the kind of claustrophobic feel of New York City living and the kind of cramped style of living. And it's oftentimes you're like, bothered by the intimacy but also you understand, you see the beauty of it, too, when you see it so close to you. So it's a double-edged sword. I think the fact that everything is so close, but I think it works in both ways. And like you said, it really is a true representation of New York. But yeah, food. We wanted to kind of capture authentic food that we grew up eating. So we tried to avoid any kind of typical Korean food that's widely known to the public, you know, like kimchi or Korean barbecue, but we try to do stuff that's home cooked. And we try to make sure that that gets the spotlight. A lot of dishes you see are pretty much that. We tried to get dakdoritang, which is made by Peter's mom herself, and like, the japchae's all handmade and all that stuff, the jjigaes and everything. In the end those are things that are very true and dear to us. 

YYS: I love that image of your mom making the food because I feel like that's implicit support of what you're doing. 

PL: It's one of those things where it's a popular home dish, I think, but it's not something that you often find on restaurant menus. So it's not like something you can even buy from the store. I can't remember when I ever saw it in the menu even, what store would even sell it. So I was like, Oh, mom can you make this dish? And she was like, how many? And then it's like, I'll just cook it and then the crew can eat afterwards as a part of the lunch meal. And I still remember everybody, as soon as we call cut, they're all rushing to the pot.

YYS: [laughs]

JK: Yeah, It's one of those dishes where you don't order it because it's better at home. [laughs]

YYS: The film is also very playful and filled with sound throughout. Can you tell me a bit more on how the film scoring came to be? 

PL: We both like 90s hip-hop. So we try to keep up with that kind of, you know, sound, the feel of it. And that's what we've asked our group of composers that we work with, but I think what was important to us was wanting to use film as, like Julian mentioned before, all the different hands that go into making a film, you know, also include, an array of musicians. And we wanted to feature Flushing natives who are musicians today. And Nancy and Izzy who wrote the opening track are Flushing natives, and they were excited to share their talent, you know, embodying that familiarity. And then Year of the Ox, with the closing soundtrack, he grew up in Virginia, but you know, his parents run cleaners, so he knows all about that life. So it was easy for him to write something. We just wanted to use this as a platform to bring in as much talent as possible, because we want to do this as a celebration.

YYS: I noticed you weaved racism into the story through these comical caricatures of white Karens or the suited up bozo landlord who wears sunglasses indoors. Why use humor in tackling this topic and how does humor impact how viewers understand racism?

JK: I think it's about perspective. Oftentimes, it might come up humorous, but it's the way they see us as very flat, one-dimensional people. And when you don't see depth in people, and you don't see the layers of people, the outcome of the way you interact with people kind of becomes very, I guess, linear, and it can come off kind of humorous and as a caricature. But I think that was kind of a reaction that we were kind of going for, like, these are the ways that oftentimes, our customers and landlords treated our parents when they were working. They don't see the struggles or the human side or [what’s] behind the counter. And that's the kind of thing they say, like, Oh, you should just fix it up. You know, why don't you do that? Why don't you do that? Or on money, my money is more important, like, you should just [refund] me because you are obliged to it, that's your job and your duty. But they don't understand the kind of struggles that go into every dollar, and every hour put into work. So we just kind of wrote it in that way. Had it been someone else, like a white person working behind the counter as a cleaners, maybe the interaction would have been different, but we did it that way in terms of portraying—but obviously, we didn't want every white person in the film to come off like that, we made sure that there were other people there who were more nice and open, who can see the depth of Mom and Dad and basically us. 

PL: Yeah, I think those moments were just all rooted in real life experiences. You know both of our families had stores. And we had to deal with landlords as kids, a very common story. [Especially for] a lot of immigrant families, so it's all stuff that we experienced ourselves. If you're a nine year old kid and you see a landlord come in like that, who gives you a hard time, it's a certain image or certain thing you remember. And this is how we remembered it. And this is what we're going to do. And like Julian said, how many mainstream media have you seen portrayals of the store workers? It's very linear one-way. For us, it's just kind of using a mirror and reflecting, Well, this is how we see you. But I think when you actually play the film, in a live audience, and you have a mixed group of people, I think it says a lot more about the audience how they take that scene, because what we've noticed is, by and large Asian Americans have a similar reaction, because we've all experienced that form of racism and classism in our life. But when you look at some folks, they either take offense and then they're like, Oh we're not all like that. But you [also] have people who just get it and they don't take offense at that. It's very interesting to see how the public is thinking, based on their reaction to that thing.

YYS: Yeah, I love the image of the nine year old remembering it and recreating it in that way. I actually watched this movie on the same day that the white supremacist uprising happened in D.C. And in the film Hyunnie and Kevin have a conversation about the meaning of Asian American or like, the hyphen between Asian and American. What context can these conversations have in our political moment and are there any limits to these kinds of conversations? What role can a hyphen cinema play? 

JK: Mm. Yeah, all I can feel and think about now is just how divided the country really is. And we're trying to separate between, unfortunately, I think race, and people feel like it really comes down to color. We made this film three years ago, and who would have thought 2020 would be like this? In this kind of American culture and everything. I don't know, it's hard to say, it's hard to grasp exactly how. Back then, I think it was more like, hey, look, we are just as American as you. Asian Americans, don't think that we're someone foreign. Like, we're not, you know, some one-dimensional character, you know, say some have accents and stuff like that, we are just as American as you. And we want you to notice that and we want you to see that Happy Cleaners is a very American film, just as much as Godfather or anything like that. So that was our intent, but putting this in contrast with everything going on in the political crisis, climate now, I think it's very heavy. It's a heavy thing to put and grasp. I think it really comes down to—I think the hyphen thing really comes into play more, I think we have to be a bridge. And I think we have to really help people come together to understand that America is not just one thing. It's a colorful place. It's a thing where everyone comes together, and we're not trying to say like, let's not look at color, but let's embrace other colors. And let's see that this is what, you know, our country should be. It's a beautiful country, if you think about it and everything behind it. You know, if everything works in harmony, it's such a beautiful country, and it can be. I just think that if people are so fixated on dividing and fixated on one race or one community is superior to the other, I think that's wrong. And I think we as Asian Americans, as the next generation, we just have to embrace that. And even for me, like I think personally speaking, maybe slightly off the record, but I think if I was to tell my son about like, what's going on, I would say, hey, look, I know you grew up, you know, your mom and dad are Korean American, we have very heavy Korean culture, but at the core of it, like, you are an American, and I want you to embrace part of it. And don't feel like you are someone different because of your skin or because of your last name, but rather just embrace that, and make sure that—and other people who are wherever they come from background wise, if they're different, like embrace that, too. So I think the hyphen should come into play like that. It's like, we have to be somewhat of a bridge to make sure that America becomes more unified more than ever, and whether that means helping the weak, and reaching out to them and siding with that side, I think that's important. But obviously, like, we should not side with the hate, we should not side with division, we should always side with making sure that the weak are being pulled up and being heard. 

PL: I think for us it's definitely this embracement of hybrid identity, that's what I like to call it. And I think there's nothing wrong with—there was confusion during childhood, what are you kind of thing, but then I think during this entire process from Flushing, we are a product of these cultures and that's unique and there's something very good about that. What oftentimes we forget is that the thing we technically have come to accept as what is American food and what is American culture, and it used to be something else, and it has just gotten to be accepted. So I think for us, when we make a film like this, it's making a statement that we exist and we're not sorry for it, and we're going to claim it. We are saying that this, too, is American. I am optimistic or hopeful, or what keeps me going, is what we can be. Cause we're far from it, but what we can be. And to get there we all have to be a part of the struggle, and hopefully one day something simple as kimchi jjigae can become something you can find in the Midwest and you eat it on the fourth of July. There's nothing wrong with that is what we want to say. 

YYS: I love that part about we exist and we are not sorry for it, and I need to say that everyday. [laughs] First of all, congratulations on going digital. It's so amazing and so exciting. What are you looking forward to making next?

JK: The pandemic really screwed us over. [laughs] It's kind of hard to gather and work on something, but obviously we want to stay in the same themes. It's going to be in the lens of Korean American, but we're still working, nothing set in stone yet.

PL: I think the fact that for Asian Americans working in the media, every single thing we make is part of the building stone to normalizing our existence. And so whether that is as Julian said, we tell a certain story, but it's always going to be told through a certain lens you have that will create a different product. But then also, going back to the same line of yeah, I want to see... the way Happy Cleaners was supposed to be a small town American story, middle of nowhere, gets made up all the time and nobody bats an eye at it. You just accept it. I want that reality for us, for our community, where it's perfectly fine to have an all Asian American cast and not be like, it's a reality that happens too, and I think more of those stories need to exist, not like once every hundred times something comes along and then we celebrate, and that's it. It should be a norm. That's the mindset we have and we want to create more projects so more of us can feel normal. 

Happy Cleaners will be available digitally on Amazon, iTunes, and Apple TV on February 12th, which is, fittingly, also Lunar New Year.