Entertainment Movies

Kim's Convenience's diversity invasion

Kim's Convenience star Paul Sun-Hyung Lee says there was a fear of his hit comedy because similar shows had been poorly done in the past. CBC

Kim's Convenience star Paul Sun-Hyung Lee says there was a fear of his hit comedy because similar shows had been poorly done in the past. CBC

DENETTE WILFORD/ 24 HOURS

Before Kim's Convenience debuted in the fall of 2016, people had already formed some opinions on it - and they weren't very informed.

A comedy about a Korean family that runs a convenience store? Pfft, that's not racist or stereotypical, at ALL.

But the cast was prepared, even more so as Season 2 premiered Tuesday on CBC.

"There was already a built-in fear because it has been done so poorly in the past," says series star and Canadian Screen Award winner Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, who plays Appa, the patriarch of the Kim family.

"But then I realized, that's all they've been fed. If all you've eaten off a Korean menu has been really disgusting, you're gonna go, 'I don't like Korean food.'But when you actually get something good and authentic and prepared with love, you go, 'Yes, there it is.'" There might be a character named Kimchee (played by Andrew Phung, whom Lee and co-star Jean Yoon both describe as "delightful" and "fearless" and "sweet") but there's nothing "racist" about it. If you tune in, you might see a family of colour but that doesn't make it a show about colour. Kim's Convenience is simply a family show and you don't need to be Asian to appreciate its humour. Frankly, there's nothing groundbreaking about it; it's just life.

"What really brings [in audiences] is they see a reflection of their own family dynamic up there," said Lee. "They might not be Korean, they might not be Asian, but they see it and recognize it. They recognize the parents and they recognize themselves. There's a great universality to that."

Yoon, who plays Umma, concurred, adding, "It's a show that families can watch together. Parents are getting it at one level but a lot of fans of the show are 12 to 16, and they're actually watching in the age of cynicism, that adolescent cynicism. They're a hard audience to get and they love our show. It's cool."

That being said, the actors, who took the time to chat during CBC's season preview in Toronto, do take pride in their job and the responsibility of representing the Asian-Canadian community in a way that hasn't been done this intimately and accurately up to now.

"You have to treat the characters with the utmost amount of respect and love and authenticity and by doing honour to them and playing out the stories, you're doing honour to the community as well," said Paul. "As storytellers, if you're presenting the truth to the best of your ability then everything falls into place."

And it's not just the Asian-Canadian community, insists Yoon. "The world around the Kim family is so diverse," she said. "We have customers who are Latin, French-Canadian, Indigenous, First Nations, South Asian, which is very much what Toronto is. All of these different communities that cross over, I think that also provide opportunities to spark discussion and also to let people in."

Lee added: "There's an inclusivity that is very welcoming in this day and age, without being preachy or overly earnest. It's not the after-school special."

Hey, the more you know ... the more you'll watch!