BY TYLER CHOI
There may be no better place to depict the Canadian immigrant story than Toronto. As Canada’s largest city, it has attracted nationalities from the four corners of the Earth. Chances are a Torontonian is, or is closely related to a landed immigrant, given that half the population was born outside Canada. But for a significant presence of visible minorities, it remained a virtual impossibility to find Canadian shows created and acted out primarily by visible minorities. CBC’s Kim’s Convenience will change that.
Billed as the first Canadian show led by visible minorities, it depicts a Korean-Canadian immigrant family, the Kims, who run a convenience store in Toronto. Written by Ins Choi, a Korean immigrant who helped out at his family’s store, it reflects an authenticity few shows can match. Far from being a show about lazy racial stereotypes and exaggerated accents, Kim’s Convenience is an all too relatable and funny show for anyone who is an immigrant, or knows an immigrant.
Reviewed by Globe and Mail television critic John Doyle as, “a killer comedy – a finely crafted sitcom with great charm. An absolute joy to watch,” it has received its fair share of critical acclaim.
In the rapid fire staccato of jokes, Kim’s Convenience tells a story of integration, a hurdle every immigrant faces. When family patriarch Appa (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) opens the show with his discomfort with the gay community of Toronto, it sheds a light into how minorities can mismatch culturally. Though hilariously, and incorrectly, defused with a, “15 per cent discount for gay(s)”, it is a moment that can elicit as many groans as it does laughs.
Helen Choi, 26, a Korean immigrant who came to Canada when she was 10, can recollect similar times. “When I first came to Canada, my parents told me to not make friends with ‘troublemakers of certain ethnicities’,” she says. “In Canada it’s inappropriate to say such things, but coming from a different country, they believed it was okay to be racially biased.”
Apart from the parents, Kim’s Convenience also develops the generational and cultural shock between parents and their children who were born in Canada. Drama emerges from how daughter Janet (Andrea Bang) and son Jung (Simu Liu) clash with how they want to live versus the foreign expectations of their parents.
“I definitely fought with my parents over the education I wanted to pursue versus what they wanted,” said Choi. “They expected me to continue in a science or math based field, and believed co-op education was for students who weren’t studious,” she adds.
There are other, lighter challenges both generations face. For Mina Park, 22, who was born in Canada, the gaps can extend to the building blocks of communication. “My parents don’t understand the pop culture as easily, and there is a language barrier between us,” says Park. She also notes that her parents tend to have a more conservative outlook on life compared to her beliefs informed by Canadian values.
Kim’s Convenience is shaping up to be more than a comedy show with racial undertones. Beneath the jokes, a very realistic treatment of the immigrant family emerges, one that everyone, regardless of being Korean or not, can sympathize with. As a tale of the cultural mosaic Toronto and Canada encounters on a daily basis, it is a highly relevant and laugh out loud show worthy of your time.