Metro Morning

Kim's Convenience explores 'rich territory' of conflict between generations

Kim's Convenience, a new CBC TV comedy show that makes its debut on Tuesday, explores the "rich territory" between different generations in a Korean-Canadian family, says one of its principal actors.

'I have been waiting a long time for this,' says Jean Yoon, actor who plays the mother

Jean Yoon, one of the principal actors on Kim's Convenience, a new CBC TV comedy show making its debut on Tuesday, says the show breaks new ground because it explores the 'rich territory' of a Korean-Canadian family. (CBC)

Kim's Convenience, a new CBC TV comedy show that makes its debut on Tuesday, explores the "rich territory" between different generations in a Korean-Canadian family, says one of its principal actors.

At its heart, the show is about first-generation Canadians and their immigrant parents, set in a diverse neighbourhood in Toronto. The show is based on a Toronto Fringe Festival play of the same name produced in 2011. It was remounted by Soulpepper Theatre in 2012. it's about life behind the counter of a corner store run by Korean immigrants.

"We had such a ball making it," Jean Yoon, an actor who plays the character Mrs. Kim, or 'Umma' on the show, told CBC's Metro Morning on Tuesday. "Umma" is Korean for "Mommy."

"The generational conflict between first generation and second generation immigrants, it's rich territory, and if you've lived through it, I mean, it's laugh and cry, laugh and cry, laugh and cry. But we haven't seen those stories on television on a national level. We are starting to see those stories coming out in novels and in theatre," she said.

"To see it on screen, to be able to share these stories, the comedy and the heartbreak of it on a national level, it's incredibly exciting. As an actor, it's such a thrill because it's so much fun.

"I have been waiting for a long time for this, yeah."

Yoon said the show, led by Asian actors, is a long time coming for Asian-Canadians. Yoon said she knew, due to demographics, that stories about Asian-Canadians would eventually be told and she thought she could always play the role of the mother. And now she is.

Her "bread and butter" film and television roles before included playing the expert —  the lawyer, the coroner, the forensic scientist — who delivers information to the hero of the story. Who she played was "not the hero," she said.

But her role is central to the show.

"With a role like this, as the mother, I have relationships, I have ambitions, I have secrets. I have a little bit of mischief in there. The first scene really is in the bedroom. Amazing," she said.

Yoon said not even her high school drama teachers thought her aspirations to be an actor were a good idea. She graduated from high school in 1981. She said she stuck it out because she loved acting.

"Asians, there weren't very many of us," she said. "Nobody wanted an Asian actor then. My father said: 'Not many chances for an Asian actor, you're going to suffer.' And it's true, there was some suffering along the way."

She said the show is based on a play that proved itself and breaks ground in the same way that Fresh Off the Boat does in the U.S. 

Fresh Off the Boat, based on Eddie Huang's memoir about his Taiwanese family moving to Orlando, debuted on ABC in February 2015. Critically acclaimed, its third season starts on Tuesday.

"We are starting to see an awareness that this is territory that hasn't been explored. There's comedy there, there's talent there, and there's a sudden pop of interest. But also it's a question of critical mass."

She said there is demand for it because there is a whole generation of Asian-Canadians and Asian-Americans, including millennials, who want their stories told. Yoon said the key is to tell those stories as faithfully and as authentically as possible. 

Yoon plays a character who was born in Korea and came to Canada as an adult in the 1980s. The story portrays her first-generation Korean experience.

"It's the writing," she said.

The show, in 13 half-hour episodes, premieres on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET.

With files from Metro Morning