Kim’s Convenience, playwright and actor Ins Choi’s heartwarming comedy about a Korean immigrant family, made it’s way to television screens via the Toronto Fringe Festival, repeated runs at the Soulpepper Theatre Company and stages across Canada.
The CBC series premiered Tuesday, October 11, one week later than scheduled due to a Toronto Blue Jays wildcard playoff game. But if social media buzz is any indicator, the delay didn’t dampen the anticipation and enthusiasim fans had for the series.
Kim’s Convenience tells the story of Appa (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee), a Korean immigrant who runs a convenience store in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood. His wife, Umma (Jean Yoon) lends a hand at the store but mainly tries to help her children succeed in life. Janet (Andrea Bang), their daughter, is an arts college student who hopes to become a professional photographer despite her father’s wish that she eventually run the store. An incident when he was a teen means son Jung (Simon Liu) has moved out and father aren’t on speaking terms, despite Umma’s and Janet’s attempts at reconciliation.
The debut episode, “Gay Discount,” highlights one of the series’ main sources of comedy: Appa’s struggle to understand the world in which he lives, in part due to a language barrier and in part due to his own cultural upbringing. The conversation between Appa and business rival, Mr. Chin, about the society’s changing attitudes towards sexuality highlights this.
Kim’s Convenience sees the world through the lens of the Korean immigrant experience – a lens that makes for great comedy and must-see viewing.
The second episode, “Janet’s Photos,” shows the second key source of humour, which no doubt comes from Choi’s own experiences growing up with immigrant parents: the gap between the expectations of the parents and the children. When Jung decide to apply to be the assistant manager at the car rental office where he works, Umma tries to bribe his boss to turn down the application so Jung can pursue a more suitable career.
The main cast, anchored by Lee, is outstanding. Lee has played Appa in every incarnation of Kim’s Convenience since the original Fringe production and it shows. The depth in Lee’s portrayal of Appa comes to the fore in one particular scene: Janet has fooled him into visiting Jung’s workplace. While there, he sees a poster of the staff, in which he sees Jung. With one brief look, viewers see a father’s pride, a longing for reconciliation and a resolution to wait for Jung to make the first move – a look by Lee that sums up the father’s and son’s whole relationship.
Yoon, as Umma, while misguided at times – like trying to convince Janet to find a “cool Christian Korean boyfriend” – cares deeply for her children. Bang’s Janet, wants to respect her parents, while carving her own path in the world. And Liu’s Jung, trapped by his past, is content to enjoy life on his own terms. If there was any flaw in the first two episodes it came from some of the supporting character’s who seemed to lack depth. Hopefully this be resolved as the series progresses.
While Kim’s Convenience is rooted in the immigrant experience, it also seems to transcend that experience. The struggle to understand a changing world and bridge the generation gap are common issues in all cultures. Kim’s Convenience happens to look at it through the lens of the Korean immigrant experience – a lens that makes for great comedy and must-see viewing.
For previous Arts Connection interviews with Ins Choi about the development of Kim’s Convenience check: