Liquor Store Dreams is the rare family-focused documentary that could be longer; compressing two family histories – not to mention a sociological, geopolitical history of South Central Los Angeles – into ninety minutes is a tall order. So Yun Um’s documentary begins with her family, introducing the liquor store her father runs through home videos of the family living and working in the small, well-travelled shop. 

Parallel to her story is that of close friend Danny Park, who gave up on a dream job at Nike to help his mother turn their family liquor store into a hub of community activity and healthy sustenance in an indigent urban neighbourhood. Park, whose energy is infectious and inspiring even as he tells his friend honestly of his personal struggles, highlights another facet of these ingrained economies which both foster ambition and limit goals outside. 

With Korean-American families dominating this industry in modern Los Angeles, a fascinating picture of migration emerges. Historical details preceding So’s family business are sparse, but there is a whole separate documentary to be made about the demographic shift from Jewish-run to Korean-run liquor stores and various (sometimes peaceful, sometimes fractious) relationships with other minority and immigrant communities. What takes focus here is the historic tensions between Korean and Black communities, stoked most prominently before the 1992 riots and whose scars are still felt today. Thirty years later, interpersonal activism is captured on So’s camera and woven into a much more personal narrative. This background and ongoing integration is almost overwhelming context; to So’s credit it is integrated seamlessly, yet leaves the viewer wanting more.

Lovingly created and historically informed, Liquor Store Dreams places one family’s unique story within the wider picture and realities of class, immigration, and social mobility in the modern United States without losing sight of little hopes. 




SYNOPSIS: So Yun Um and her friend Danny Park grew up in the family-run liquor stores of Los Angeles’ Koreatown, and this documentary explores their family’s histories and dreams.