Pictured: James Yi and Lee Shorten. Photo by Jalen Saip.
“I love you, too, appa, and no one’s twisting my arm to say it“
The cynic in me says representation is a fad. Disney wants it. Pixar shows it. Hollywood sells it. Black Panther, Moana, Coco, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Crazy Rich Asians… People want representation, so they’ll sprinkle it into a couple movies carelessly before going back to the way things were. This Youtube video comparing Moana and Coco argues that Coco does a better job representing the culture. The culture is crucial to Coco‘s storyline while Moana‘s is a simple hero’s journey. She could’ve been “an aardvark and she had find Matt Damon and save the world… from a giant shark slayer… or something.” But does representation only mean showcasing a specific culture? Coco is also a hero’s journey at the very core.
Representation focuses mainly on a particular culture and shows it through a compelling plot. The former overdone can be toxic. We are careful to criticize Crazy Rich Asians because it is OUR movie, but by doing that we risk exotifying ourselves even more. We risk other cultures dismissing such representative narratives as “not our story”. Crazy Rich Asians is geared towards a very specific, narrow target audience. While it is good for the said audience, it isolates the rest of the world from it. Of course, not everyone is going to relate 100% to everything. No one ever does. A good representative narrative still has relatable themes and characters that brings people together, while introducing a foreign culture.
All this summer I’ve been anticipating Kim’s Convenience at Pacific Theatre directed by Kaitlin Williams. The original play that birthed the TV show was written by a Korean Canadian playwright, Ins Choi. So for obvious reasons I was excited, but I was worried that I still wouldn’t see myself in the play. I wasn’t born in Canada and I always felt a little more in-between- but it worked in my favor. I was able to see myself in most of the characters. I saw myself in Janet (Jessica Liang) following her dreams, unlike her appa (James Yi), who sacrificed his for his family. I saw myself in umma’s (Maki Yi) love and compassion towards Jung (Lee Shorten), who couldn’t stand the cultural clash between his family and the outside world (which had become part of his ideals). I saw my family and myself, through the conversations and conflicts.
James Yi did a spectacular job portraying a typical appa (dad) down to the little habits and accent. The accent! How does he even do that? Not to mention his amazing delivery of the Korean lines, though there was certainly a hint of his own accent. The dialogue was believable and highly accurate. When I tried to summarize this show to my mother, the translation of appa’s lines in my head came so easily; I just knew what he meant to say in Korean. Unfortunately, Jessica Liang’s (Janet) performance fell a little short, overshadowed by Yi’s performance. Tré Cotten plays various characters not part of the family, and makes it seem smooth and effortless.
I have to take a quick moment to appreciate the amazing set and lighting design (Carolyn Rapanos and Jonathan Kim). The set was perfect down to every piece of gum and the florescent lighting really brought out the dimly lit convenience store’s 80s ~ 90s vibes. It reminded me of old supermarkets hidden in the corners of Coquitlam run by men like Mr.Kim.
The flashback, though, was a little confusing to follow. It could have been delivered a little better with some more indicative dialogue or drastic lighting design. The fact that appa was so supportive of Janet’s relationship also caught me off guard. Unrealistic as it is, the show was mostly about appa’s character growth. It was necessary for him to accept other cultures and by association, Janet. His open-mindedness shows that as the parents were living in Canada, they also changed. Many children think they are completely different and isolated from the parents, but with enough communication, a family can come to an understanding.
And that’s what this is all about. Family. The culture plays a lot into the conflicts, but at the end of the day it is about the family’s relationship. As I bawled and laughed at the most inappropriate moments (being bilingual means you can understand dick jokes in two languages!) I saw glimpses of other people in the audience shed a tear, laugh, and become invested in this family. Yes, I’m different. But so is everybody else. While this show was representing my culture and Korean immigrant families, we all could see part of our families in it. And that’s what stories do, isn’t it, “representation” or otherwise.