A Face in the Crowd: So Yun Um is Thinking Big with “Liquor Store Dreams”

When So Yun Um got into the Armed with a Camera fellowship from the Los Angeles-based Visual Communications to make a short last year, she immediately knew the story she wanted to tell. Growing up in Los Angeles as the daughter of Korean immigrants, she spent countless hours in her father’s liquor store where he spent even more ensuring that she might be able to do something beyond the seven-day-a-week grind that he’s been doing since the ‘80s, and if she were to start her filmmaking career, she wanted to honor the work he had done to make it possible by turning the camera on him. In making the five-minute “Liquor Store Babies,” which premiered at last year’s Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and recently made its way onto Vimeo, she discovered that her father had missed his calling when it became obvious he was a natural-born movie star.

“I never envisioned this to be longer than a short film,” the filmmaker said recently in an e-mail. “But a lot of people including myself wanted to see a longer version than the five minutes.”

The response prompted Um to expand the short into “Liquor Store Dreams,” which is currently raising funds before a June 6th deadline on Kickstarter, and go beyond her own personal experience to tell a larger story about the Korean American community in Los Angeles. Beyond the the hardship of assimilating into a new culture and making ends meet, the feature will cover the responsibility that younger Korean Americans feel towards their elders who sacrificed so much to give them an easier life than they had, as well as how media representation has often made the obstacles to overcome that much greater and the specific challenge for this generation that grew up in a particularly turbulent era for Korean Americans during and after the L.A. Riots. Um’s story will be complemented with three others who have grappled with taking over the family’s store, continuing to film Danny Park, who appeared in the short, after leaving a job at Nike to run his father’s store on Skid Row following his passing, and chronicling the experiences of Ann Chung and Kelly Hwang, who pressed pause on their personal ambitions while facing similar circumstances as Park, with very different reactions to taking over the business.

“I’m excited to not only tell my own story but the story of every other second generation child who experienced the same struggles and challenges that I did,” says Um. “Also, I have a really incredible team so I’m excited to work with them!”

Um will be reuniting with cinematographer Dawn Shim and producer Kathleen Choi, who both worked on the short, to bring the feature to the screen and adding more muscle behind the camera with “Staycation” writer/director Tanuj Chopra, who is serving as an executive producer. The film promises to be as aesthetically ambitious as it is narratively, taking inspiration from the dreamlike approach of recent films as “Shirkers” and “Cutie and the Boxer, but time is of the essence with Um’s father putting together plans to sell his store soon and Park recently opening his, meaning it’ll be all hands on deck for Um to begin filming this summer. That includes those who can lend their support on Kickstarter, which will go a long way towards making such a worthwhile project as “Liquor Store Dreams” a reality.

To watch the filmmakers’ pitch video and back this project, click here and follow the film’s progress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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