Kim’s Convenience came to the small screen in Fall 2016 as part of a new slate of developments from CBC. Roughly 20% of Canadians are foreign-born and Asia is the largest source of immigration. Canadians continue to celebrate cultural heterogeneity and the public broadcaster is transforming to reflect that. CBC dives directly into diversity, producing a show about immigrants, their families and the businesses they create.
With its focus on a Korean-Canadian family, the sitcom takes a fresh approach to storytelling in several ways. Originally a stage play, it was created by York University BFA grad Ins Choi. Not seeing himself or his stories represented anywhere, he took matters into his own hands and wrote a play for the Toronto Fringe. A huge success, the show won the Audience Choice Award and the acclaimed Soulpepper Theatre took notice. Together with Choi, they developed it further into a show that hit the Soul Pepper stage and now tours various cities, hitting New York this summer.
On the other side of the equation, the inexhaustible Producer Ivan Fecan was failing – at retirement. One of the most well-known media executives in Canada (previously Head of English TV at CBC, CEO and President of CTVglobemedia and VP Creative Affairs at NBC), he is familiar with Artistic Director Albert Schultz at Soulpepper and was invited to see Kim’s Convenience in rehearsal. They had an inkling this might be something that could be adapted for TV.
And they were right. Fecan came back to work, joining Thunderbird Media. He contacted the Kim’s team again and threw his hat in the ring to develop it for TV, in partnership with Soulpepper. Bringing the broadcasters out to view the play again, Fecan felt strongly that the CBC would be the best match for the show. He knew it would provide a supportive environment, especially for the subject matter. Indeed, CBC agreed and committed to Thunderbird’s request for a two season order off the bat – a rarity for any series. He makes the argument that “if this show had been financed by international money, I’m not sure we’d be able to tell the same stories.”
With this guarantee, the team got to work. After some Showrunner speed dating, Choi selected Kevin White as his partner. The two hit it off like crazy. Scripts were worked on extensively and the show started off with hilarious and refreshing material. The pair doesn’t steer clear of poking fun at Canadian stereotypes, about immigrants and across the board.
As the TV show is more expansive than the play, the characters are also more fully developed. Starring Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Jean Yoon, Andrea Bang, and Simu Liu, this was an exciting opportunity for the core cast, who came right off the stage. Many of the other actors came from Soulpepper as well. This is another unique part of the show – Choi, White and the directors get to work with trained theatre actors. Their familiarity with the characters allows them to give profoundly believable portrayals.
In order to get the word out there, the Thunderbird/Soulpepper team shot and edited their own promo videos in partnership with CBC. They had “a strong idea of how they wanted to launch the show,” explains Ivan, and were happy to take on that responsibility to be able to convey their vision. CBC then launched promotion during the Olympics, giving them a full six weeks of prime advertising before the premiere.
Mainly shot in studio in Toronto, the show does do some on-location filming per episode. The Kims’ storefront is located in the Cabbagetown/Corktown area of Toronto, known to the locals as Mimi’s Variety. Like the Kims, the owners of Mimi’s came to Canada in the 1980’s and live above their store. For additional interstitials, Thunderbird chose street photography consultant and filmmaker, Iris Ng, who has a special eye for the city. Adding to this realistic feel is the show’s soundtrack, comprised of Toronto indie bands. All of these ingredients add up to a show that authentically portrays, as Fecan describes, “a real neighbourhood that people live in - crime, gentrification and generational shift within immigrant families.”
Genuine portrayal and attention to detail has paid off. The series earned 11 Canadian Screen Award nominations in 2017, including Best Comedy Series. The team took home four, with Paul Sun-Hyung Lee accepting Best Performance by an Actor in a Continuing Leading Comedic Role for his depiction of Appa, aka Mr. Kim.
Now cameras roll again this summer with more of the Kims’ family comedy in store this Fall on CBC. Follow the cast from set and engage in live tweeting with them during various episodes. Ongoing extras can be found on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. And in the meantime, catch up with the first season on CBC online. #OKseeyou