The Slate’s Inkoo Kang writes about the critical and word-of-mouth success of Canadian TV sitcom KIM’S CONVENIENCE, which really gained traction with Asian American audiences when the first two seasons dropped on Netflix earlier this summer (the upcoming third season will debut on Canadian TV early next year and a fourth season has already been ordered).
Kang is a fan of the show and makes a comparison to how she was both deeply affected by CRAZY RICH ASIANS but also cognizant of some of the problematic issues about the film (rising Sinosphere, specifically). She confronted these similar issues when viewing KIM’S CONVENIENCE.
More from The Slate:
To watch KIM’S CONVENIENCE as a Korean American is to witness the immigrant culture in which I grew up strained through the cookie-cutter mold of the family sitcom genre. Some elements come through smoothly and retain their recognizability. The show has no shortage of cultural details that feel true to life. The children’s names alone—older sibling Jung and younger sibling Janet—suggest the family’s growing assimilation in the years that separate them. Janet’s gentle mockery of her parents’ accents feels as grounded as her mother’s petty entanglements in church drama. Growing up, I never imagined that I’d watch an English-language sitcom about a Korean family, let alone an episode centered on ddong chim, an utterly un-Western schoolyard game where boys prank one another by thrusting their index fingers into one another’s buttholes over the pants. (I don’t blame you if you don’t get why this is a thing, but I used to find this hilarious.) In the show, Jung struggles to explain to his boss and love interest Shannon (Nicole Power) why the insertion of his fingers between the asscheeks of his colleague and best friend Kimchee (Andrew Phung) isn’t sexual harassment—a feat of cross-cultural interpretation that’s as much for the sake of the audience as Shannon.
And yet KIM’S CONVENIENCE is undeniably a North American translation of Korean immigrant culture. Sometimes quite literally. Its easy legibility seems to demand that Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Jean Yoon (Appa and Umma) perform in a foreign-yet-completely-understandable accent that sounds like Korean-accented English but resembles no manner of speaking I (or any Korean Americans in my acquaintance) have heard before. In their scenes together, Umma and Appa speak in broken English rather than in Korean—an artifice that never ceases to remind me that the show is just as much for non-Koreans as it is for “us.” The program also displays little interest in depicting the exhausting drudgery of running a convenience store for untold hours every single day of the week. Appa and Umma are proud of never having closed the store early for the past 20 years. They might be the most cheerful, well-adjusted people who work 80 hours a week that you ever meet.
Even Paul Sun-Hyung Lee recognizes and acknowledges this in his portrayal of Appa. Check out this interview with CBC News on the success of the show and how Lee “found his voice” as an amalgam of his father and uncles growing up:
Inkoo Kang concludes her article about how when viewing Asian American entertainment, one cannot not have a checklist on authenticity, but that watching faces like you on screen supersedes said checklist.
Asian American entertainment is still enough of a novelty that often we don’t sit back and enjoy each product so much as put its authenticity on trial: “Does this feel Korean? Yes? No? If not quite, is it passably so?” Based on personal conversations, I don’t seem to be alone in watching Kim’s Convenience (or any other Asian-American movie or show) with a running tally in my head of which aspects feel real and which don’t. It’s only when the drama manages to overcome this instinct—such as when Jung feels he can relax and openly express affection to a post-surgery Appa, whom the son knows is unlikely to remember their heart-to-heart the morning after—that questions of identification fall away to make room for the sheer pleasure of it.
To read the rest of the article, head over to The Slate: Netflix Has Made Kim’s Convenience a Word-of-Mouth Sensation