Title: Kim's Convenience.
Author: Ins Choi.
Genre: Fiction, plays, immigration, family, humour.
Publication Date: 2011.
Summary: Mr. Kim is a first-generation Korean immigrant and the proud owner of Kim's Convenience, a variety store located in the heart of downtown Toronto's Regent Park neighbourhood. There, he spends his time serving an eclectic array of customers, catching petty thieves, and helpfully keeping the police apprised of illegally parked Japanese cars. As the neighbourhood quickly gentrifies, Mr. Kim is offered a generous sum of money to sell—enough to allow him and his wife to finally retire. But Kim's Convenience is more than just his livelihood—it is his legacy. Unfortunately, his daughter Janet has no interest in the business, and Mr. Kim hasn't spoken to his estranged son Jung in many years. This is a play of one Korean family struggling to face the future amidst the bitter memories of their past.
My rating: 8/10
♥ In 1965, there were seventy Korean immigrants in Canada. In 1967, the first Korean church was established at St. Luke's United Church on the corner of Sherbourne Street and Carlton Street in downtown Toronto. Originally named the Toronto Korean Church, it was renamed the Toronto Korean United Church after becoming a part of the United Churches of Canada. In 1973, the Ontario Korean Businessmen's Association (OKBA) was established. The organization offered group purchasing to small businesses through its wholesale outlet and serviced mainly Korean convenience store owners.
With the Korean church and the OKBA established, Koreans could come to Toronto, make friends, gain support, purchase a store, fill the store with products, and make a pretty good living without ever having to learn English. Korean convenience stores spread all over Toronto, as did the Korean churches. In 1980 there were 20,000 Koreans in Canada, and in 2011 that number rose to 200,000. I've always considered the church and the store to be the Umma and the Appa of Korean communities in Canada.
♥ RICH: You're not hearing me. (Picking up a can.) The picture, right here, it's ginseng.
APPA: No, picture is insam.
RICH: Yo—forget it, it's no big deal. (Putting the can back.)
APPA: Yo, it's very big deal. Look same, not same thing. 1904. You know what happen in 1904? Japan attack Korea.
RICH: Japan attacked Korea?
RICH: In 1904?
RICH: Are you Japanese?
RICH: You look Japanese.
RICH: Yo, you look like that guy in The Last Samurai.
APPA: Who, Tom Cruise?
RICH: No, the Japanese guy.
APPA: Look same, not same thing. You look like you is from Kenya.
RICH: I am from Kenya. I was born here. How'd you know that?
APPA: I can tell.
APPA: Yeah. Really.
RICH: Yo, that is cool.
APPA: I know. I am.
RICH: Why were we talking about Japan attacking Korea?
APPA: Japan attack Korea 1904, make slave of Korean. I am Korean. Ginseng is Japanese name. Insam is Korean name. (Beat.) Look same—
APPA & RICHIE: —not same thing.
APPA: You understand.
RICH: Yeah, I gotcha. Hook me up.
APPA: Okay. I hook up.
♥ JANET: How many times do I have to tell you, Appa, Japanese people aren't the only ones driving Japanese cars.
APPA: You buy Japanese, you is guilty by associationship.
JANET: What about your Canon SLR camera, made in Japan?
APPA: Appa get half-price.
JANET: Your money still went to Japan.
APPA: Half-price, I rip off Japan.
JANET: Still Japanese.
APPA: I scratch name. Nobody can tell. Talk to police.
JANET: What about Mr. Shin? He's a salesman for Honda.
APPA: Mr. Shin is Mr. Shit.
♥ APPA: No. That's different. He is pimping Japan. Pimping Japan is okay. He is make money selling Japan food, but he is Korean. White people can't tell difference. Kind of look same. Korean Grill House, run by Chinese. Chinese pimping Korea. That's no good. Appa boycott.
♥ APPA: Long time now see.
♥ JANET: That is so awkwardly racist.
APPA: Not racist... survival skill. Look. Secret survival skill. (Closes his eyes and looks around.) Make eyes very small. Then nobody know you even looking. (Reopens his eyes.) Okay, brown guy, that's steal. Brown girl, that's no steal. Asian guy, that's no steal. Asian girl, that's steal. If you is the gay, that's no steal. Easy. The gay is never steal. If you is the lesbian, that is girl who is the gay, that's steal, one hundred percent guarantee they is steal. But two lesbian, that's no steal, cancel-out combo.
JANET: What about a black lesbian with long straight hair and and a fat Asian gay man with short hair together? Steal or no steal?
APPA: That's impossible.
JANET: What's impossible?
APPA: The gay, Asian, fat?
JANET: Appa, there are Asians who are gay, y'know?
APPA: I know, but the gay Asian is never fat. Only skinny Asian is the gay. That's rule. Shhh.
♥ APPA: No, you making big mistake. I know hapkido. You know hapkido? It's Korean fighting style. That's big mistake for you. Now, you want something, you pay. You can pay cash or you can pay I kick you ass.
♥ JANET: Picking up the stolen items and placing them behind the counter. Is it worth it? Is it really worth it? Grow up, Appa!
APPA: YOU grow up.
JANET: Did you even think about—
APPA: YOU think.
APPA: YOU what.
JANET: Stop doing that!
APPA: YOU stop.
JANET: I'm not doing anything.
APPA: YOU doing.
JANET: I'm just talking.
APPA: YOU talking.
JANET: Appa, that doesn't even make any—
APPA: YOU doesn't.
JANET: You're just repeating—
APPA: YOU alright.
APPA: YOU fine.
JANET: Forget it.
APPA: YOU forget it.
APPA: YOU turn.
APPA: YOU niverse.
APPA: YOU tube.
Bell. Police officer ALEX enters.
APPA: YOU calyptus!
APPA: YOU thanasia!!
APPA: YOU kulele!!!!!
♥ JANET: Once in a while, I catch my dad looking out the window. Most of the time he's looking for illegally parked Japanese cars, but sometimes I think he's looking for Jung.
♥ APPA: What is my story? Hm? What is story of me, Mr. Kim? My whole life is this store. Everybody know this store, they know me. This store is my story. And if I just sell store, then my story is over. Who is Mr. Kim? Nobody know that. You take over store, my story keep going.
JANET: But Appa, that's life. Whether you choose it or get thrown into it, you make it what it is. And if you're not happy with your life, I'm sorry, but you can't expect me to make your life—I don't know—meaningful.
APPA: But I give my life, my story for you.
JANET: But you're the parent. You're supposed to.
APPA: Why is that supposed to? I don't have to give to you my life. I could throw you away as baby. I don't have to love you as baby, but I do. That is choosing. I choose like that. So, you have to be thank you and give to me you life. Second half. Fifty-fifty. That's fair. Yah, lookit, I am work at store, what you do, you don't work at store and still you eat, sleep upstair, yah? You whole life, that's how we doing. Thirty years. So, just switch side now, like soccer. Second half, you work at store and I don't work at store and still I eat, sleep upstair. Understand? (Beat.) I'm not live more than ten years, it's good deal for you.
JANET: That's a messed-up idea, Appa.
♥ JUNG: How's Janet doing?
UMMA: She is still single, ready to mingle.
JUNG: Hey Umma, you ever think Janet might be "the gay"?
UMMA: The gay? If Janet is lesbian, that's okay because then at least I know reason why she has no boyfriend.
♥ JUNG: ..So glorious, right? Mike lives in Richmond Hill. He drives a Beemer. 5 series. He's got great-looking kids, a sexy cute wife, family vacations all around the world every year. I've seen all his photos. Jason, Rich, Tech, Tom, Henry, Mike, Jong, Young, Young Jong, Suyoung. All of them. They're all successful. They start asking about me. What I do, where I been. I start making stuff up, trying desperately hard to sound impressive, but just sounding desperate. I was their captain. I was their captain, Umma. I was smarter than all of them, faster, stronger. I didn't dream I'd end up renting cars to people. Nine to five. Checking for dents and scratches. Living in a shithole in Parkdale. Apartment's a constant mess. Fight all the time, his mom and me. She thinks I'm a loser—I don't even know why I'm with her anymore. And all he ever does is cry and cry and cry and cry and cry. Just wanna leave, y'know? Just go. Start over. Somewhere else. Calgary, Vancouver—doesn't matter where. It'd be so easy too. Bay and Dundas, hop on a bus and leave. I rent cars to people, then take the streetcar home. What is that? That's a joke.
UMMA: Your Appa was teacher in Korea. He was very good teacher. Student all love him. He have lots of friend. We have very good life in Korea. Then we coming to Canada. But he can't be teacher here. His English is very... no good. We get store. And he work every day. No weekend, no time off, no vacation, always have to be open, no retirement. Why? Why he doing like that? For you. For you and Janet. He is choosing like that for you. (Offers the photo.) You choosing like that for him. (JUNG takes the photo.)
♥ APPA: You was fourteen years old. (JANET stops.) You was fourteen years old, school project: "What I am most proud of." You write story how we begin store. Then you take picture of me in front of store. That is my most happy memory, Janet. I don't want you to take over store. I want you live life best way you choosing.
JANET takes the garbage bag from the closet and approaches the front door.
APPA: Yah. (APPA taks it from her.) Go upstairs. Go. Sleep. (JANET embraces APPA.) Okay, okay, okay, that's good enough, let go, Janet.
♥ JUNG: You giving the store to me?
JUNG: No, Appa, seriously?
APPA turns to JUNG with tears streaking down his face.
APPA: This is my serious face.
♥ APPA: What is my story? What is story of Mr. Kim? My whole life I doing store. This store is my story? No. My story is not Kim's Convenience. My story is you. And Janet. And Umma. And Sonam. You understand? (JUNG nods his head yes. APPA gets the pricing gun and offers it to JUNG.) Change price. Make two dollar. That's good idea. (JUNG takes the pricing gun with both hands.)
APPA exist to the back.
JUNG goes behind the counter, adjusts the numbers on the pricing gun, and begins repricing the cans.
Lights slowly fade to the sound of the pricing gun.
♥ I like to imagine Ins watching the first episode of this series with his parents, who brought him to this country when he was a year old and who will be watching their son's stories told to a country full of people just like them... people who took extraordinary risks in coming to Canada... people who worked remarkably hard to build a life for their family and, in doing so, built a nation.
The series that we have made is about a country whose strength and vitality is derived from its diversity. I do not believe there has ever been a major television series anywhere with a more diverse cast than this one. I hope that for Ins's children, this is what television will look like for the rest of their lives.
~~Albert Schultz (Founding Artistic Director of Soulpepper Theatre and Executive Producer of Kim's Convenience, the TV series.
♥ As I write this from our studio not far from Regent Park, where the show is set, we are one month into production. With the CBC, various federal and provincial funding agencies, and Thunderbird, Kim's is fully financed in Canada. This is meaningful because with foreign money comes foreign input on scripts. Given how differently immigration is currently viewed in much of Europe and the U.S., it is important to provide a Canadian perspective on this subject, while telling the stories of the Kim family.
You will notice that, compared to the play, new characters are introduced and even existing characters altered slightly. We also meet the Kim family a few years earlier in their history. But the heart and soul of the universal story of immigrant parents doing their all to give their kids a better life is still very much there.
~~Ivan Fecan (executive chair of Thunderbird Films and Executive Producer and Producer of Kim's Convenience, the TV series).
♥ The story keeps on going...
As an actor, the television series offers me an opportunity to explore Umma when she is younger, more hopeful, still undeterred from her plan to marry off her children to good Christian-Korean partners with post-doctorate degrees. She's not yet defeated, not yet touched by regret. This Umma is as vigorous and comically out of step with her children's values as her husband. She goes on adventures of her own and has tender, nuanced, and rich relationships with family and friends. I spent all yesterday learning the B-52s song "Love Shack" and the Sonny and Cher classic "I Got You Babe" in preparation for upcoming scenes. Need I say more?
And every day I am on set, I think again of my own family, my beautiful mother and my kind and stoic father; the kind and quirky ajimas I have met on my travels; my grandparents—and I reach deep into all that love, all that family history, to make art.
How blessed am I.
You, me, Appa, Janet. All together. Hold hands.
~~Jean Yoon (actress playing the role of "Umma" in Kim's Convenience, the TV series).
♥ Writing is such a personal, private process. So intimate it's lonely at times.
♥ It's a quiet ritual amidst the bustle of life on set. It's my favourite part of the day.
The most difficult part in all of this is creating—investing all your ego, personality, faith, energy, hope, and history—and then loosening the grip of that creation just enough to others can get in and do what they do to what you've done. When it works, it's a collaborative miracle.
While the crew sets up between takes, I wander around the sets: the store, the apartment above the store, the car rental agency, Janet's bedroom, which, I imagine, used to be Jung's before Janet was born. And then they probably shared the room for a while—maybe even until he left home. Janet still has his skateboard, which sits in the corner of the room. John Dondertman, the production designer, and his team went to my parents' home and church to do a bunch of "authentic Korean" research. Wouldn't have had it any other way.
My wandering lands me outside. Lakeshore Blvd East isn't the most inspirational view, but I look up and it's all sky. A dome of scratches and curls. Billowing clouds. Birds. Prayers. Blessings. Like a mustard seed that grows into a sheltering tree. And then I hear a voice: "I found Ins. Copy that." One of the assistant directors on her walkie-talkie urges me to return to the set. "Sorry."
I'm making a TV show based on my play for the CBC, and I'm loving every moment.
~~Ins Choi (author and Co-Creator, Executive Producer, and Writer of Kim's Convenience, the TV series).