I know, I know what you’re thinking! “Not ANOTHER Asian-centric post!” *Rolls eyes*. …….What! I can’t help it! I’m learning so much about myself since starting this blog; I’m finding out that my Asian/Chinese self-identity is much stronger and sits more prominently at the forefront of my mind than I previously thought, manifesting itself in the choices I make (to eat and to watch and ultimately what I blog about). *Shrug*.
So my latest Netflix recommendation is the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s (CBC) award winning comedy show- Kim’s Convenience (2016 – present).
If you haven’t heard of or watched an episode of Kim’s Convenience before, here is a quick high level introduction to the show (TV series is based on a 2011 stage production with the same name).
The Kims are an immigrant family from Korea, like the vast majority of immigrants to the West they had to sacrifice much and give up their professions (for Mr/Mrs Kim, it was teaching) and start afresh in a new country, for the hope of a better life for their kids. For the Kims, it means opening up a mom-and-pop convenience store and working from morning till late 7 days a week. At the start of each episode the camera awakens to a scene from inside Kim’s Convenience, where Mr Kim interacts with a customer (or his daughter), usually to a humorous outcome; playing on the differences between Korean and Canadian cultures, or a generational jibe between the olds being from the ‘old country’ and the next Gen being everyday Canadians. Through the duration of season 1, we get to know the Kim family quite well – headed up by Mr Kim or better known as ‘Appa’ (Korean for Dad), Mrs Kim a.k.a ‘Omma’ (mum in Korean) and their two adult children Jung Kim (older son) and Janet Kim (younger daughter). The show’s storyline is nothing out of the ordinary, just the normal goings on of a middle class working household; but the laughs come by the way of light-hearted representation of Korean culture when manifesting itself in multi-cultural Toronto – representing how the old generation are trying to hold on to its old traditions and mentalities, while the younger generation is trying to expunge all that is traditionally Korean from their lives. It is family and inter-generational dynamics, inter-racial interactions, Korean patriarchy, church life, and parenthood, to name a few aspects which drives the humour, delivered in such a way that’s suitable for an audience of all ages. Clean, well thought out, witty humour.
The stars of the show are Appa (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) and Omma (Jean Yoon), who are so so convincing playing the role of a married couple who have been together for 25+ years, and perhaps their onscreen chemistry is the outcome from acting together for a long time (Paul and Jean have been playing the role of Mr Kim and Mrs Kim since 2011, when the play first treaded the boards across Canada for over 200 shows). All the funny bits of the show actually centres around Appa and Omma, while the kids Janet and Jung are surprisingly not all that humorous – any humour when they’re on screen are driven by their co-stars who play their roommate, classmate, cousin, or boss. A huge portion of the show’s success has to be credited to the brilliant writing of the show’s creators Ins Choi and Kevin White, who construct the bare bones of the scenarios, their to-the-point screenplay which adds the meat to the bones, and the cast which gives the show a beating heart, bringing the show to life! The storylines play on every conceivable stereotype, exploiting every quintessential Korean ‘Fresh-off-the-boat’ behaviour – leveraging from situations most immigrants to the West can relate to. And from what street-side interviews I’ve heard with first-gen Canadian Koreans, what comes out of Mr Kim’s and Mrs Kim’s mouths is exactly what all Appas and Ommas across North America would utter or behave like, given a similar scenario. And it’s evident that all the storylines are based on lived experiences by its writer Ins Choi, who himself is a first-gen Canadian Korean (Ins actually played the role of Jung in the original stage production). If you’re not from an Asian immigrant background, and after watching a few episodes and you’re left thinking “surely the storylines are exaggerated and over-the-top?”, and you’re a little sceptical if immigrant families are actually ‘crazy’ like this? Let me tell you, they are. Boy, how Kim’s convenience has accurately reflected reality for so many!
And I’m pretty confident to say that I’m not only enjoying Kim’s Convenience because I’m Asian and I can relate, but back home in Canada Kim’s Convenience has been achieving critical acclaim all across the maple land, cleaning-up at the Canadian Screen Awards since 2017; and has been bringing together the country, highlighting to all, the wonderful differences and similarities among the diverse cultures who all call Canada home! Ahem……. Perhaps Australia can learn a thing or two from our far far North cousins (you know, Canucks are just like Aussies who have a better tolerance to the cold…..), perhaps the ABC can produce a show about a Thai family and their Thai grocery store? *Shrug*. To date, 2 seasons of Kim’s Convenience can be viewed on Netflix, and the third season is currently airing on the CBC, and hopefully these new episodes will be made available to the global audience real soon.
For me personally, where the show has struck a chord with me is the depiction of the stage in life the Kim family is navigating through- as I too am at this stage in life (i.e. all grown up, parents are empty nesters, and I’m trying to work out where my responsibilities lie, like how much should I try to ‘live my own life’ versus how involved I ought to be in my parent’s lives, who will always treat me as ‘their little boy’, and the cultural things (the good and the bad) that never change no matter how many years it’s been). The interesting detail about Kim’s Convenience (being a show about a nuclear family), is where they decided to start the story – the phase along the circle-of-life for a nuclear family. For many other shows before it, where the story centres on a nuclear family, oftentimes the family is younger; and as the seasons go by the show’s themes grow with the members of the family, e.g. the growing pains from primary school, high school, and eventually university where the kids grow wings and fly away. And oftentimes, soon after the kids have reached maturity, the show often experiences a quick but painful death – the final scene in the final episode being the last look-back at an empty family home (which once contained much life) before the door is closed and locked-up for the very last time (parents downsizing now that the kids are no longer with them). Holy crap! This reflection is making me as emotional as I was during the ending of Toy Story 3! Haha. But Kim’s Convenience is actually tackling this stage in life as their show’s starting point, and it’s interesting to see a scenario which I’ve just lived through, playing out on-screen and seeing it from all points of view (the parent’s perspective and from the perspective of the kids). For example, observing how Mr and Mrs Kim are learning how to let go as parents; watch how Janet (daughter) navigates the eggshells of trying to live her own life, while still being a dutiful daughter to her parents; and seeing how Mr and Mrs Kim are learning how to love and live with each other again, now that they are empty nesters, just the two of them, like how it used to be before the kids came along. I guess it all just reminds me of the sacrifices we often take for granted, what our parents have given-up and done for us, and often all the thanks they ever get from us is the occasional drop-in for a free home cooked meal, or exploiting their unlimited help they’re always willing to give, to lend a hand to their kids. Thinking about this now, makes me a little emotional. Haaha. *Laughing through almost tears*. And it is credit to Ins Choi, for his ability to bring this complex life-stage to life, while still making us laugh along the way. But with the laughter, I did feel a sobering moment when seeing things through the parent’s eyes, having to deal with these changes when we first packed our bags and excitedly left on a new stage of our lives! And it gives us (at least for those who do have kids) a glimpse into what awaits us further down the track, when our own kids are all grown-up and they too will eventually leave us. Ah life, it doesn’t get any easier hey? Unless…… Sydney property prices continue to rise, and the kids with their kids are stuck with us until they’re 50. Haaha. For some heavy topics, Kim’s Convenience surely makes light heart of it, a sweet coating around an otherwise bitter pill to swallow.
So yeah, on face value it’s light hearted humour, let’s ‘have a laugh at the immigrant family! With their accents and imperfect grammar!’ But under the surface it’s thought provoking when you think a little deeper about the topics. I think my take-away is that I really need to appreciate my olds a whole heap more, and as annoying as they can be at times (what kid doesn’t find their parents annoying at times), in the end I need to remind myself that they always have my best interest at heart, and if it wasn’t for them I literally wouldn’t be here. Love you Mum and Dad…….. Or Omma! And Appa! Or should it be Mummy-a and Daddy-a? (Chinglish for Mum and Dad).
So in conclusion, if you haven’t watched Kim’s Convenience, check it out! It’s definitely worth your time! Short punchy 30 minute episodes, 13 in each season. Two seasons currently available for your binge-viewing pleasure, and hopefully one more on its way! Just search for Kim’s Convenience on your Netflix app! Or ask your Smart assistant to ‘Play Kim’s Convenience on Netflix!’
And for those who have started or have finished all the available episodes, check out this youtube clip if you haven’t already seen it – where Appa (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) accepts the Canadian Screen Awards 2017 award for Best Actor in a Continuing Leading Comedic role:
If you ever thought to yourself ‘Mr Kim can’t act’, I think this clip will change all that. The 2min clip absolutely blew me away! Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (or should it just be ‘Paul Lee’), you’re an amazing actor! But you also kind of ruined my impression of the show at the same time though. *Frowns*. Hit us up below if you’re a new or existing fan of the show! Let us know which is your favourite episode? Mine, S1 E9- ‘Best before’. OK. Seee Yoooou.