Never before in Canadian television has a sitcom aired that featured and all Asian cast. Kim’s Convenience shares the life of an immigrant family Korean family that owns a grocery store in Toronto’s Regent Park (run-down) area. Naturally being Asian myself, I gave the first few episodes a shot and I had a few laughs along the way. It’s also freely available online if you’re living in Canada here. Instead of writing a 7/10 critique to which you could just run over to IMDB easily, my initial impressions are going to focus on personal tidbits that really stuck out to me. You see, what stood in my mind was not the actors in front, but the director behind…
Director of Kim’s Convenience (above), Ins Choi is a 2nd generation Korean Christian who was born and raised in a Christian home in Toronto. His dad was a pastor, and Ins looked up to him in a positive way. But deep inside this active church going son, was a passion for movies, fueled by his love of his favorite actor, Bruce Lee. So instead of carrying on his father’s legacy, Ins entered into film (while being told multiple times he wouldn’t make it and having his scripts rejected) to which Kim’s Convenience became a play in 2011, and a full-out TV show by 2016. Oh and he also got married and had children along the way.
I glossed over a lot there. But being conscious of his background I wanted to see how him as a Christian would be able to use his faith, to influence our culture today. Even before the TV release of Kim’s Convenience, Ins came to Tyndale to speak on his very matter. And that’s what it sounded like to me – a sincere believer in Christ who wanted to bring the Kingdom of God to penetrate into media. But from what I know, CBC as a crown corporation is very liberal when it comes toward religious matters. Just look at their content and tell me if there’s anything thats remotely Christian in it. So content on Canadian TV can’t come across as too ‘preachy’, and must appeal to a broad range of audiences. How much concessions would Ins have to fold to? I wondered. I’ll get back to that in a bit.
Ins Choi never intend for Kim’s Convenience to be a 1-1 reflection of his own life, but rather a caricature of several stereotypes within the Korean immigrant family. The family unit here consisted of an insensitive brash Father, overbearing mother, aspiring loyal daughter, and runaway independent son. The Father known as “Appa” stood out to me the most.
This guy is the ‘Apu’ (from Simpsons) of the show. So over the top crazy, discriminatory, witty, patriotic to a degree that I’ve never seen of any Korean dad. In the first episode ‘gay discount’, its absolutely hilarious how he is confronted by the community about his homophobic reactions and how he tries to resolve the matter without admitting to his faults. I think this is an A+ character that you should keep an eye out for, even if just for laughs.
Remember what I said about concessions? Well I can’t help but wonder if the out-of-left-field swearing was not part of the original script. And you’ll run into it in every episode. Totally odd, because I thought this was a family comedy. Also, I have found some of the cultural cues at the least obscure if not obscene. In one of the episodes, the Korean son jokes to his manager about “dong-shi”. Without going into details (just watch episode 3), it’s a prank that I’ve seen Korean men gaud over all the time. I don’t get it to this day and I find it dishonoring to the Lord to even think about it. But this scene appeared to me glorifying the act more than shaming it. Thankfully I’ve only caught this once, but how far will the show go when it runs out of steam?
Now getting to the positive notes, there are pockets where religious motifs are briefly explored. Christian dating, Bible, dependence on God, life (gossip) at church, and even visits from the Pastor. They are brief, and don’t provide us with any background but are very realistic family scenarios. For example, using Church as a crutch to find a boyfriend is a VERY common imposed on by parent or child. So to this, I really commend Ins for trying. And indeed in real-life this is very much a part of the Korean Christian immigrant family although much less out-forth and vocal as the show makes it to be. That’s my opinion based on my interactions with Korean’s for the past 15 or so years and with some being close friends to me. The life of a typical Christian family isn’t all church choir and Hallelujah to the Lord. Rather, there’s a lot of mundane grinding mixed with personal problems that is like all other families. And that’s really what I’m seeing out of Kim’s Convenience. Snippets into the life a kimchi bowl.