I almost missed the very first commercial spot I saw for Kim’s Convenience. In the middle of working on various pieces, I only just caught the familiar sound of the Toronto streetcar chime and the low humming of a middle-aged man in the middle of his convenience store. I looked up just in time to see Paul Sun-Hyung Lee flip over the “Closed” sign to one that “Coming Soon,” and thought to myself, “Well. This is new.”
In the months since the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) premiered Kim’s Convenience, I’ve joined many other Canadians in falling in love with this show. That said, some of us were definitely late to the game, as Ins Choi’s play has already toured the country several times, bringing the Kim family’s story to cities across Canada. Last Wednesday, the Reel Asian Toronto Film Festival hosted a screening and panel with Ins Choi and three of the cast members. Coming on the heels of the U.S. presidential election results, the panel wasn’t just a moment to enjoy Canadian film-making, but also a truly cathartic experience for this Asian-Canadian writer.
After a short introduction, this week’s episode (#6) of the show was screened for us, in which Janet (Andrea Bang) finds herself stuck between her father’s traditional attitudes towards childrearing and her “progressive” white professor’s insistence on non-discipline. As I watched Janet navigate a line she didn’t realize was there, a line that many of us immigrant kids find ourselves held to, I laughed and I cried and I felt so much for this smart show.
The panel that followed featured three of the four Kims: Paul Sun-Hyung Lee who plays Appa, Jean Yoon as Umma, and Simu Liu who plays their estranged son and Janet’s big brother Jung. Ins Choi rounded out the group, moderated by Marivic Taruc, as they discussed what it’s been like to be an Asian-Canadian actor, and the ways that this show has affected them and their work.
— Angel 😇🦂🏹 (@angelcwrites) November 10, 2016
Jean Yoon spoke about the power that Kim’s Convenience has to reach audiences.: “The show is just so funny. It’s so funny, so funny, and then it hurts. You see the sadness at the core of this family. You laugh because it’s so funny and it’s so true, and you cry because it’s so funny and it’s so true. And I’m so proud of this show because that is the good stuff.”
Simu Liu shared his ambition to give young immigrant kids inspiration to work in the arts: “I had parents who wanted a stable life for me …We have to show young immigrant kids that this is possible.”
Paul Sun-Hyung Lee confessed that, “There are things that you dream about and never think will happen. You dream about being the lead in a TV series. Being number one on a call sheet instead of the unnamed convenience store owner, a doctor, another doctor … my parents are so happy now.”
And of course, Ins Choi spoke about his own hopes for the play he wrote, and the show that’s bringing the Kims to audiences who may have missed them the first time around:
“I hope Kim’s Convenience is a beacon for young writers and young actors to have and to show their parents like, ‘Look! This is possible.'”
In this strange, frightening new world, we need shows like Kim’s Convenience to remind us of all the ways immigrants are carving out their space and their lives. It was wonderful to have that reminder for myself last Wednesday, and to be able to share it with others through this show.