How Kim's Convenience made TV magic during a pandemic

'Season five is a miracle on so many different levels,' says Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, who plays Appa on CBC’s comedy series Kim’s Convenience.

'Season five is a miracle on so many different levels,' says Paul Sun-Hyung Lee.

Nicole Power, who plays Shannon on Kim's Convenience, says despite COVID protocols, "The magic never went away, which was really nice and everybody was so wonderful, and we felt so safe. It was really beautiful." (Dennis Nicholson)

Despite Kim's Convenience going into production during a pandemic, COVID-19 won't play into any on-screen story lines in season five, even though it had a massive impact on the series behind-the-scenes.

Not only was dealing with COVID-19 an obstacle, but the cast was down a member, with Simu Liu (Jung) stuck in Australia shooting Marvel's Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings.

With season five airing now on CBC, we spoke to the cast and crew of the beloved comedy to talk about how they came together to overcome obstacles such as delays, new protocols, on-set chaos and other COVID-19 challenges.

Season five was like, we're not going to let this stop us, and we're going to keep ourselves safe. It's very different kind of feeling and a really powerful one too.

Staying safe on set

"We were coming to work with a whole new set of protocols," says Jean Yoon (Umma), "all of which changed our workflow, and how we interact with everybody else on set with the sea level of anxiety about how safe it was. Those fears quickly allayed, but everybody was coming with both excitement and trepidation." 

"I'm really proud of how our cast and our crew, and our producers at every, every single individual, how seriously they took the protocols," says Yoon. 

The show's producers, especially Sandra Cunningham, took great care of considering how the virus is transmitted to their sets and implemented changes accordingly, says Yoon.

One of the precautions included having cast members wear masks on set, right up until the cameras were rolling. Additionally, the production introduced better ventilation, testing protocols, PPE, and limiting the number of people in the studio at the same time. For example, the camera crew, lighting team and grips would set up a shot before a scene was shot, and left the studio afterwards. Further care was taken in every other aspect of production, from hair, to makeup; there wasn't a level of production that was untouched.

"I really did feel safe. I felt safer on set than I feel, going to the grocery store or certainly riding, say, the subway," says Yoon.

"I am insanely grateful for the effort put through by everybody involved in the production, so that we can make this, and share it with our audiences,"  says Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (Appa).

"I'm grateful because we were able to film at all. We protected each other and we lifted each other up." 

"We had to do a lot extra, but we did it, and without one case of COVID, and that is something tremendous especially in 2020." 

Re-creating family vibes

When Liu got back to Toronto, he quarantined for two weeks and caught up with nine straight days of back-to-back shoots for Kim's

Creating season five had a new intensity

Andrew Phung confesses that the only season he's been scared to shoot was season one

Phung remembers, "I kept asking 'Why am I here?'"

"Whenever they yelled 'cut,' in my head I'm like 'Oh my God, they're going to fire me, aren't they?'" 

But during season five, there was a different kind of intensity.

"The success of the season, getting to the end, everything we did, now rested on our dependence and trust for one another. And that carried all the way throughout," says Phung. 

Andrea Bang, who plays daughter Janet, says she didn't know what to expect before going on set for season five. 

"I think that we quickly adapted and it went back to at least like the feeling of camaraderie of previous seasons," says Bang.

Nicole Power (Shannon) says after she got used to having a mask and a shield on 24/7, it was back to normal. 

"It just got right back to the good kind of summer camp feel-good feeling that Kim's has had since the beginning. The magic never went away, which was really nice and everybody was so wonderful, and we felt so safe. It was really beautiful."

In fact, the cast and crew's commitment to safety made them even closer. 

"Sets are often chaotic, but this season it was so calm, because we had one mantra: we got to do this as a family, we have got to get through this for one another. And I think that's perfect, it made me fall in love with these people so much," says Phung.

In 2020, Kim's Convenience was recognized by TV Guide as one of the best "feel good" streaming series available and as a perfect quarantine distraction by Oprah magazine. In 2021, Kim's Convenience season five promises more wholesome storytelling to lift us up. 

This season, the Kim family navigates a difficult medical diagnosis for Umma (Yoon), while Appa (Lee) steps up as the primary caregiver, a recently graduated Janet (Andrea Bang) moves back in, and boundaries are inevitably crossed. Meanwhile, Jung's (Liu) brief trip to business school tests his relationship with Shannon (Power) as Kimchee (Phung) reconnects with his family, and his high school crush. 

Accolades for Kim's Convenience include numerous Canadian Screen Awards, Leo Awards, ACTRA Awards and a Canadian Comedy Award. The series has also received nominations for awards from the Writers Guild of Canada, and the Directors Guild of Canada. In addition, the series has received international acclaim, winning a 2019 award for "Most Popular Foreign Drama" at the 2019 Seoul International Drama Awards in South Korea.