There are Korean actors on Canadian television playing Korean-Canadians. It seems simple but this is a big deal!
The debut of the CBC show Kim’s Convenience is a milestone for immigrant and visible minority communities in this country. The comedy portrays the life surrounding the Kims, their family-owned convenience store, and the generational differences between immigrant parents and Canadian-born children. The show is based on Ins Choi’s play, which had three successful runs in Toronto and across Canada. Paul Sun Hyun Lee and Jean Yoon reprise their stage roles as Appa and Umma on the small screen.
As a Canadian-born Korean with parents who once owned a convenience store, I am the target audience. Four episodes in, I am a delighted fan. Most of the action takes place in the store itself. A cluttered place with no sense of modern minimalist merchandising is oddly refreshing to see on TV. The show dives right into political and contentious content including gay pride week, ddong chims (which on the show they call a Korean style wedgie) and estranged families.
I admit I was worried in the first episode, when we are figuring out if Appa is homophobic or not. He teeters on being traditionally conservative and genuinely caring for gay customers who enter his store for the “gay discount” he offers to prove he is not homophobic. A heartwarming interaction late in the episode with a drag queen customer shows us that Appa is a good guy. Like many immigrant parents when faced with cultural difference, he tries to understand.
The writers have written fully formed characters beyond stereotypes. Appa’s antics in the store interacting with customers are like a screwball comedy but we also see him share tender moments with his wife. Umma struggles with peer pressure from other mothers at church, who pry and show off about their families while volunteering.
Andrea Bang plays their daughter Janet, who is the reasonable rock of the family and also a creative type who loses her patience sometimes.
I’m particularly pleased about the casting of Simu Liu as estranged son Jung because it’s the first time I am seeing a total babe East Asian actor in a Canadian TV show, tearing down Asian nerd stereotypes with every shirt he doesn’t wear! He’s also a fine actor.
The supporting cast of white people are funny too.
The fourth episode is the strongest so far. We meet Nayoung, Janet’s cousin visiting from Korea and we hear more Korean spoken by the actors. I laughed out loud many times, and this time the jokes were well-sewn into developing the characters’ relationships. Korean speakers will understand bonus jokes from this episode.
Side criticisms are that Choi and Yoon play their Korean accents too strong, and they are inconsistent with their pronunciations of the F’s and V’s (There are no F or V sounds in Korean.) Also, could they squeeze in any more random shots of Toronto neighbourhoods in between scene transitions? Locals are loving this.