You're sitting at home with nothing to do, so you decide to check Netflix. You don’t want anything too dramatic, too scary, too sad or too psychological. What do you decide to watch? “Kim’s Convenience.” Here’s why.
“Kim’s Convenience” follows the story of a nuclear Korean family that owns a convenience store of that same name in Toronto, Canada. The father (“appa” in Korean), or Mr. Kim, and the mother (“umma” in Korean), Mrs. Kim, have a son, Jung, and a daughter, Janet. Jung is played by actor Simu Liu who is cast to play the character Shang-chi in the new Marvel film coming out 2021, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” The show's latest season premiered on April 1 on Netflix U.S.
The show centers around the married life of Mr. and Mrs. Kim as they run the store to support sending Janet to Ontario College of Art and Design University. The Kim’s are a religious family so they also frequently attend church. Mr. Kim has a tumultuous relationship with Jung who works at Handy Car Rental. When Jung was a teenager, he ran away from home and was briefly in juvenile. He now lives together with his childhood friend Kimchee.
This show has been going on four seasons now and has not disappointed fans or critics. At the 2017 Canadian Screen Awards, actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, who plays Mr. Kim, delivered a moving acceptance speech for winning Best Actor in a comedy series.
Being an immigrant himself, it was an honor for him to win an award portraying an immigrant family on screen. He said, “It normalizes us, and it shows people that we might have some cultural differences, but when it comes to family, we are all the same.” The show has since gone on to win the Bell Media Award for Best Comedy Program or Series in 2018.
There are very few shows out there with an Asian cast member and even fewer still with an all-Asian cast. One such show is “Fresh Off the Boat,” starring a Taiwanese family living in Florida in the 1990s. Having just concluded its 6th season on ABC, “Fresh Off the Boat” added East Asian representation to the family-sitcom lineup. Yet with its conclusion, television primetime is again left with very few East Asian faces.
Creator of “Kim’s Convenience,” Ins Choi, said in an interview with NPR, “I wasn't seeing Asians on stage, I wasn't seeing Asian stories.” That’s when he decided to produce his own work based on his family life. While growing up, his father was a pastor and many of his friends’ families owned convenience stores. Inspired by his upbringing, Choi first wrote “Kim’s Convenience” as a play and it debuted in the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2011 before going on a year-long theater tour of Canada.
“Kim’s Convenience” is the perfect way to supplement your daily dose of supremely hilarious content. Arguably, season four has come back even funnier and more relatable than ever before. What makes “Kim’s Convenience” stand out against other sitcoms is how it handles weightier topics, such as immigration, white guilt and stereotyping, with ease and hilarity.
One of the first things that new viewers will notice is Mr. Kim’s thick, Korean-English accent. In reality, Lee has no discernible accent except maybe to American viewers who aren’t used to the elongated, Canadian pronunciation of “sorry.”
The accent might seem out of place, but the show stays true to the experience of immigrant families everywhere. Lee said, “I read the first two scenes, and my heart — it exploded because that was my appa. And I'd never heard him represented that way before — and it was like a key turning in my head, and his voice just started coming out.”
I think his use of the accent makes his performance all the more empowering. Mr. Kim never hides his identity nor his accent. His character normalizes a trait that would typically prove to be a cause of self-consciousness or shame for Asian immigrants.
Furthermore, in episode five of the latest season, in their typically fast-paced, witty introduction, Mr. Kim talks with his friend about immigrating to Canada for a better life. Yet, neither could have predicted that they would arrive in Canada during the recession.
As funny as it is to see both Mr. Kim and his friend realize that their lives might have been richer had they stayed in their home countries, this interaction challenges the commonly held conception that coming to the West provides for a better life. Their doubts are surely reflected in immigrant families everywhere, which makes this 1-minute interaction so much more compelling.
There’s also a juxtaposition in the treatment of the two kids. For one, Janet, played by Andrea Bang, attends an arts school. Her parents are supportive of her career choice, instead of antagonistically forcing her to be a doctor or lawyer. Janet’s character arc challenges the traditional stereotype of Asian tiger parents.
But, they still deal with this issue in Jung’s character. Jung could never meet his dad’s expectations so he ran away from home. The show focuses on how reforming the relationship between the two men is a slow and uncomfortable process, but one that is nevertheless necessary.
Every issue that this show confronts is not boxed in by stereotypes or jokes at the expense of culture. “Kim’s Convenience” is all about a family that has just as many problems as everyone else. The beauty is that their problems are on Netflix for us to binge-watch, and luckily, our problems just serve as references to help us relate to the show.