2021 is looking brighter already with the return of Kim’s Convenience. Ahead of its fifth season, I spoke with series stars Jean Yoon (Umma) and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (Appa) about their characters and how the show found an even bigger audience during the pandemic.
Season 5 of Kim’s Convenience premieres tonight, January 19, at 8pm (8:30pm NT) on CBC and CBC Gem.
Umma and Appa no longer have an empty nest when Janet (Andrea Bang) moves back in with them this season. How does that change the family dynamic?
Jean: Janet coming back provides more opportunities for us to interact with Janet and also develop some of those relationships and storylines. I remember when I was in college, I was gone for about one school term and it was too much so I came home. It’s especially natural in a Korean family, where parents generally don’t want their daughters to leave home until they’re getting married. They want their daughters to stay home not just until they get married, but to make sure that they get married. What ends up happening [this season] is a whole range of new storylines and possibilities.
Appa has a way of getting into trouble, whether or not it’s intentional. Will we see more of that in the upcoming episodes?
Paul: With Appa, it always starts with what he thinks is right, and with the best of intentions. He never diabolically sets out to abuse this privilege or take advantage of a loophole. What ends up happening is he gets tempted — either by circumstance or convenience — and makes little justifications on why he can bend the rules a little bit. The problem is he never knows when to stop. It becomes easier and easier until he has to pay the price and face the consequences of his actions. That’s what I love the most about playing him. He does all the stuff that, with common sense, we would know enough to stop. Audiences like seeing what he goes through because it’s what would happen if we didn’t have self-control.
Do any of Appa’s friends join him in these shenanigans?
It’s great to see Appa’s circle of friends expand outside of the store — Mr. Mehta (Sugith Varughese), Mr. Chin (John Ng), and Frank (Derek McGrath) — and that he’s not just about work and family. He has an accomplice in Mr. Mehta, and Sugith is a great scene partner. I’ve become very good friends with Sugith, and I’ve been friends with John for 15 years. Plus, he has a lot of bad advice thrown his way, usually from his buddies. You’ve got that cabal of morons who come in and justify Appa’s way of thinking, or they present the voice of reason which Appa throws out and does what he was planning on doing anyway. There’s always a price to pay when Appa does something like that, and it’s fun to play.
The relationship between Appa and Jung (Simu Liu) has come a long way since Season 1. Where are they at this season?
Jean: Appa and Jung have progressed a long way and as the actor who plays Umma, it makes me very happy. Umma really wants Appa and Jung to come together. They are so similar and don’t get along because they’re the same. They’re both proud and have their own honour code. What’s been lovely about this season is watching the point where this triggers again. In all families, there are certain relationships that if something goes the wrong way, BOOM! They’re at each other’s throats again. It’s both realistic and funny. We’ve seen the love in that relationship, but it’s always going to be a tinderbox.
In 2020, people in search of something new to watch discovered Kim’s Convenience and fell in love with the show. What are your thoughts on the show reaching a much larger audience under some rather odd circumstances?
Paul: Weirdly, it took a global pandemic for more people to discover the show. We’re glad it was there for people and that they found a great level of comfort from it. They were sharing it with friends and saying, “Hey, this has been a really crappy year but if you want to feel good and be filled with hope, watch this show.” It’s gratifying to see the response.
Kim’s Convenience is about love and has a lot of love in it. The world needs more of that love right now instead of the animosity and the rancour, and it’s a nice escape for many people. It’s comforting and hopeful. Speaking for myself as an actor, seeing something that I’m in — and that I love doing — bring that kind of joy to people is wonderful. It’s validating and comforting for me, and it’s nice to know that even in a small way, we can bring some relief to people. Personally, one of the really bright spots of the pandemic is seeing that my work has made a difference in some people’s lives, even in the smallest of ways.
Images Courtesy of CBC