Jung is Debra, a 29-year-old Korean woman who works as a dancer in a strip club to support her precocious daughter Mona (Eponine Lee), a ten-year-old student in private school. She’s taking steps toward a better life for her family but with each move forward comes a setback, usually in the form of Debra’s boyfriend Sarge (Jesse LaVercombe), an itinerant father who comes and goes, often disappearing with no explanation.
When he isn’t gambling away all their money, he’s making pie in the sky promises of money and being a better father to Mona. Convinced that Sarge is the true love a fortune teller once predicted Debra endures his nonsense.
When he takes off with all their money, Debra’s life spins out of control. A missing-in-action babysitter and a failed job interview put her in a desperate situation. Unable to pay her rent, she’s tossed out on the street.
Ian (Shaun Benson), a kindly neighbor who has always had a crush on Debra, comes to the rescue with a job and a sense of stability. When Sarge comes back into their lives like a whirlwind, Debra must decide what is best for her moving forward.
Debra’s path in life is not easy but director Gloria Kim never wallows in the misfortune of her story. The hurdles in Debra’s life are realistically portrayed, emotional and she is even sometimes the architect of her own misfortune, but there is an optimism to the story that no matter how bad things get, they can and will, get better. It is a journey of deliverance for both Debra and Mona, made more real by engaging performances from Jung and Lee.
“Queen of the Morning Calm” is a self-assured feature debut for Kim, who worked for a decade to bring this story to the screen. Her story of Debra’s empowerment, of self-discovery, is honest and heartbreaking, steely yet vulnerable and handled with great sensitivity.