RKS 2023 Film: Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival: “Liquor Store Dreams”

Self titled “liquor store baby” So Yun Um recounts her story as the child of Korean immigrant South Los Angeles liquor store owners in the documentary “Liquor Store Dreams”. In the late 80’s Um says that 70% of all liquor stores in South Los Angeles were owned by Koreans.

She also has her Korean friend Danny recount his stories about being a liquor store baby.

Um and Danny’s parents abhor the idea that their children would continue to operate the liquor stores as it is dangerous and exhausting with long hours. Family life and personal relationships suffer. First generation immigrants often share the same stories and aversion to their children following in their footsteps.

Um notes the racism directed toward Korean food mart and liquor store owners may have had impetus due to negative stereotypical portrayals in American cinema. It caused her shame and rage. I had to watch this documentary having just recently seen Spike Lee’s 1989 film “Do the Right Thing” where Korean liquor store owners operate in a predominately black neighbourhood of New York. Um believes that film was an accurate predictor of the future.

In 1992 in the Los Angeles Riots one half of city-wide damages were to Korean owned businesses. You’ll see archival footage of armed Korean shop owners protecting their property. Was it the 1991 death of 15-year-old black Latasha Harlins shot in the back of the head by a Korean food mart owner over a dispute over a $1.79 container of orange juice or the five-year probation sentence of the shooter that enraged the black community? The 1992 rampage did not reoccur after the death of George Floyd but many Korean food mart and liquor store owners feared the worst which fortunately never materialized. However we watch footage of younger Koreans marching in the Floyd protests in solidarity with the black community decrying racism. Will Danny and Um continue in their parent’s footsteps? Are their dreams continuing their family liquor stores or escaping them?

Um’s father reminds us of the continuing influence of immigrants in the California liquor store business. The Jews ran much of it initially, then the Japanese then the Koreans and now the Bangladeshis are moving into the territory. As her dad said there is a saying amongst Koreans that you often will become what the people picking you up in the airport are working at.

A roughly similar immigrant story to Cambodian immigrant Ted Ngoy in the documentary “Donut King”.

It will be showing on 10May at 19:30 at the Gardena Cinema in Los Angeles.

RKS 2023 Film Rating 79/100.

Published by Robert K Stephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food ,drink, travel, film, and lifestyle issues. He also has published serialized novels "Life at Megacorp", "Virus # 26, "Reggie the Egyptian Rescue Dog" and "The Penniless Pensioner" Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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