Tag Archives: Paul Sun Hyung Lee

CBC’s Kim’s Convenience hits its stride in Season 3

You can feel it when a television show has found its legs. The characters are relatable and unforced, funny but not feeling strained. That’s the state Kim’s Convenience is in as it rolls into Season 3. And why not? The CBC sitcom—returning Tuesday at 8 p.m.—has a legion of Canadian fans behind it and is expanding worldwide thanks to Netflix, Amazon and a recent deal that will see the award-winning program debut in Korea. (A fourth season has already been greenlit, meaning the Kims and their friends are sticking around for awhile.)

When viewers tune in on Tuesday, they’ll see Appa (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) and Jung (Simu Liu) working together to right an Appa wrong before Umma (Jean Yoon) finds out. Spoiler alert: they don’t succeed. Meanwhile, Janet (Andrea Bang) is still fighting to be recognized as a bona fide artist and Kimchee (Andrew Phung) is the assistant manager at Handy Car Rental. The cast teased a bit of what this season has in store.

Over the last couple of seasons, Appa and Jung have come together on screen and they have been really big moments. Is it becoming more comfortable now, these two guys spending time together? The situation called for it in the first episode, and I feel as though there’s a softening towards each other. Is that the case?
Simu Liu: If you look at how Jung and Appa left off at the end of Season 2, it wasn’t necessarily a diffusing or anything. We certainly thought that there some sort of reconciliation in the works in the episode before, but then there’s a blow up that happens. It goes to illustrate that no family, no relationship like that is just going to repair itself because of one thing. The past is always going to influence how they are around each other.

I think that’s kind of the tone we’re going into the new season with. I think you will have moments where they’re together and it’ll be what it is, but it won’t be normalized.

Jean Yoon: They come together, they blow up. And they come together.

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee: You also see why they fight. When you see these interactions, you kind of go, ‘Oh!’ Because in Season 1, it’s like he ran away from home or he got kicked out. Why don’t they get along? I think that’s the by-product of seeing them sort of wanting to reach out. At the end of Season 2, you know there’s the desire’s there, but they just can’t do it…

SL: There’s so much history. It’s complicated.

JY: You see how much they are alike, and why as they come together and you get this friction.

PSHK: That’s the fun exploration of seeing that, ’cause it’s like, they’re together, you know they want to repair those things, that rift, but there’s just something fundamental about the makeup, because they are so similar to each other. They’re like magnets. Same poles.

Also, in the first episode back, Jung is faking that he’s going to the job, and then wanting to watch TV. It’s such a great storyline for a television show anyway, having the guy act like he’s been going to a job or school for months and months and months. 
SL: To be doing it so that, in part, because he doesn’t want to be embarrassed, of course. But in part also because he doesn’t want his best friend to feel bad about taking his job. I think he really starts the season in the lowest of the low moments.

What can you say about what Jung goes through this season?
SL: I mean, I can’t say too much. I think you see a little bit of it at the end of the first episode. It’s just him getting used to the fact that things aren’t going to be so easy for him. I think when we start in Season 1, it’s like by Episode 3 he’s the assistant manager. Dating seems to be not terribly difficult for him. Now it’s like, ‘No, you lost your chance with the girl that you really like. You lost your job. Your best friend’s the new assistant manager at Handy.’

Andrew Phung: You start seeing Kimchee and Jung’s relationship sort itself out, because there is a new balance between them. I think that was really fun. I think always in those early scripts, I see them, this is such an opportunity for us to see a switch in the character. To see the character evolve. We love seeing characters have highs and lows. We can see Kimchee’s high. He’s coming out, looking fresh, he’s multi-tasking. So you see that character change as well. That’s throughout the season.

It’s a real opportunity for this guy that’s been the laughing stock of the show in every scene for two seasons. I’m assuming that’s not going to totally change, but it is a great opportunity for him.
AP: Going back all the way to the first season. We were work-shopping the scenes. I was trying to figure out Kimchee, because I think [Paul and Simu] had a sense of … you knew your characters. You’d lived with your characters. Kimchee’s new. We came to this conclusion that Kimchee is a genius. He is the smartest guy in the room. He thinks he’s a genius. On the outside looking in, you’re like ‘What’s this guy doing?’ Kimchee’s like, ‘You’re an idiot for not thinking my way.’

It’s fun to see him evolve to now own this role of genius. Now he has power. He’s put it into the workplace, and just having the opportunity to play with Nicole [Power, as Shannon]. There are these wonderful scenes that we developed this relationship we never had. Now we’re peers in the workplace.

Jean, what about Umma and Appa?
JY: On the other side of the world, I think what happens in Season 3 that’s really satisfying is you see Umma and Appa, you see more facets of their relationship. These marital disputes that every couple has gone through. Power play, questions about division of labour and is equal the same as the same? No. Equal should mean I’m better. That kind of thing. Also, we see Appa and Jung and some really interesting episodes with Janet and some with Gerald and a lot of the characters that we’ve all come to love to visit the store…

PSHL: Pastor Nina, Mr. Mehta, Mr. Chin.

JY: Mr. Chin, Gerald, Chelsea, his girlfriend. Again, a lot of those themes seem to be about communication, about boundaries. The driving force is in the end, that you know no matter how bad the conflict is, that in the end, these characters really love each other. These are people who at the end of the day are going to somehow find it in the bottom of their souls to say they’re sorry. And they’ll mean it.

SL: We’re really hitting a comfort zone in our own work. Especially, I think about Andrew and I on our first day of Season 1, just coming to set and basically shaking as the camera’s rolling, because we were newcomers into the whole Kim’s Convenience world, and we just didn’t want to mess it up.

I think about how nervous we were and how anxious we were. How that followed through the entire first season and a bit into the second as well. But really I think what was different for me going into the third was I think you mentioned this confidence, this self-assuredness. But it was just, ‘OK, I have some idea of what this character is and what he does and why he thinks the way that he thinks.’ I feel like I can do the work. I feel like that really gives you room and permission to play and take risks. I think that’s when you get your best work in.

Kim’s Convenience airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.


CBC announces the 12 Canadian kids vying for the title of Canada’s Smartest Person Junior

From a media release:

CBC today announced the 12 remarkable Canadian kids who will compete on CANADA’S SMARTEST PERSON JUNIOR, premiering Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 8 p.m. (8:30 NT) on CBC, the CBC TV streaming app and cbc.ca/watch. Over the course of six episodes, the competition will determine which incredible young Canadian will be crowned as the first ever Canada’s Smartest Person Junior. Like Canada’s Smartest Person, the junior format is inspired by The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Over six weeks, 12 Canadian kids aged 9–12 will showcase their smarts in fun and innovative challenges across six categories: physical, musical, social, linguistic, logical and visual. The new CBC competition series is hosted by two-time Canadian Screen Award Winner Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (Kim’s Convenience).

In a twist on the original format, audiences will see the same competitors week-to-week. Those with the strongest performances each week will advance to the next episode, while the others will be up for elimination. In the season finale, the top six finalists will go head-to-head one final time. The competition will culminate in a heart-stopping showdown between the top two combatants in the world’s most intense intelligence obstacle course, the Super Gauntlet. The young competitors are:

● Alexia Sabau, 12, from Calgary, Alberta
● Arjun Ram, 12, from Hamilton, Ontario
● Ashley Taylor, 11, from Guelph, Ontario
● Danica Scully, 11, from Halifax, Nova Scotia
● Liam Henderson, 10, from Sarnia, Ontario
● Liam Veale, 12, from Saint John, New Brunswick
● Mateus Soto, 11, from Toronto, Ontario
● Matthew Shimon, 12, from Sydney, Nova Scotia
● Matthew Yu, 10, from West Vancouver, B.C.
● Misuzu Tamaki, 11, from Markham, Ontario
● Sandra Nitchi, 11, from Montreal, Quebec
● Zoe Devalia, 11, from Scarborough, Ontario

CANADA’S SMARTEST PERSON JUNIOR is produced by Media Headquarters in association with CBC. The series executive producer and creator is Robert Cohen. For CBC, Sally Catto is General Manager, Programming; Jennifer Dettman is Executive Director, Unscripted Content; and Susan Taylor is Executive in Charge of Production. Media Headquarters, now part of Kew Media Group, retains the international rights. The format has sold in 12 territories worldwide including France, Germany, Sweden, Turkey and Argentina.


The stars of Kim’s Convenience sound off on the groundbreaking series

After being bumped a week because of the Toronto Blue Jays wild card game, Kim’s Convenience is back on track. Debuting Tuesday at 9 p.m. with back-to-back episodes on CBC, the series is the brainchild of Ins Choi, who penned the original, award-winning play.

Starring Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Appa, Jean Yoon as Umma, Simu Liu as Jung, Andrea Bang as Janet and Andrew Phung as Kimchee, Kim’s Convenience tells the story of Appa and Umma Kim, a Korean couple who immigrated to Canada and opened a convenience store in Toronto’s Regent Park. The headstrong Appa has big plans for son Jung and daughter Janet, and those expectations cause friction in the family.

We spoke to the cast and creator about bringing Kim’s Convenience from the stage to TV, what viewers can expect and how the Kim’s story is universal.

Ins Choi, co-creator and co-executive producer
What’s been the biggest learning curve for you, adapting your play into a television show?
I’ve just been on a big learning curve throughout and ever since I started collaborating with [series co-creator] Kevin White. He’s been teaching me a lot as we adapted it. I guess writing with someone else was the biggest thing initially. We wrote two scripts together initially and then we were in the writers’ room. You have to keep your ego in check and have faith that everyone has the show in mind rather than their own ideas. The best idea will stick and the best thing for the show is what we choose.

It’s not always your idea that’s the best, is it?
No! It’s rarely mine! [Laughs.]

Who did you have in the writers’ room?
We had Kevin and myself, Garry Campbell, Anita Kapila, Rebecca Kohler and Sonja Bennett.

Is Kim’s Convenience a prequel to the events in the play?
It’s kind of an adjustment and a prequel. We find everyone in the cast anywhere between six and 12 years before the time of the play. We’ve adjusted some ages to better suit our needs. Janet was 30 years old in the play and now she’s 20. She and Jung were two years apart in the play and now they’re two. We find Janet at OCAD, studying photography. We fudged things a bit, but we liked that world of students and assignments, teachers … we thought that would be good, fertile ground for story. And Jung is 24 and is working at a car rental company. So, we have the school, the car rental agency with a bunch of other characters and like the play we have the store, the apartment above the store and the church.

You’re learning the back stories of the characters you created for the play. That must be fun.
You live with the play for so long … and I had all these other ideas for the play. Scenes, different ideas. As hard as it was, I had to edit all of that out. Here, we get to dive into those extras. I reach back and go, ‘Oh yeah, there was a scene I had a long, long time ago…’, so that’s been exciting. But also creating it with new eyes with these writers and the actors. Sometimes, we come up with a character and hire the actor, and that actor brings more to the character than we had thought. Or they come up with stuff and we go, ‘Oh, that’s better than what we had, let’s write to that strength.’

kims_paulPaul Sun-Hyung Lee, Appa
How long have you been involved in Kim’s Convenience?
Ins Choi wrote the play in 2005 and shortly after that I became involved in workshops for it. He was developing the play and would call me in to read scenes, give feedback and do workshops and work out the kinks. So, off and on before we’ve even been in production, I’ve been involved in it. I remember, in the very beginning, reading two scenes and just being enraptured by it and blown away by how authentic and truthful it sounds. I immediately knew I needed to be involved.

This play could have disappeared and just been lost in the shuffle. So many things went right for it to happen, and it was like catching lightning in a bottle.

What does it mean to you to be learning Appa’s back story after playing him for so many years?
It’s an incredible advantage for an actor to step onto a stage and know the history of the character. With Appa, we’ve aged down the family by a number of years. For me, I’m not so much learning about his backstory because he was always a full-realized character to me. He’s a force of nature. He’s there to create disruption around him. We keep saying this: the play is one world and the series is another world. There are parallels and similarities, but the paths don’t really cross.

Watching Appa judging Janet during the scene I saw you run through … I think people sometimes forget that you can say a lot with facial expressions without saying a word at all.
Being able to act with subtext is a bit of a lost art now. I feel like younger actors now are uncomfortable with the silences and need to fill it with ums and ahs or come up with dialogue they hope you’re going to cut off. You just have to be in the moment and trust that this silence is far more effective than if you stammer through a scene.

Did you have any questions for Ins or concerns when it was announced this would be a TV show?
The only real concern I had was the tone of the show. It’s so easy to play broad, to go sitcom-y with a laugh track. We really didn’t want that to happen. One of the real strengths of the show is being able to connect the audience with these characters as human beings and not stereotypes. There is a real danger, especially when you’re portraying non-white characters. I wanted to keep these people as real and believable as possible, and that’s what we did with the play. Yes, at the end of the day we’re entertainment and we push the envelope as we entertain. We do find ourselves in situations that are manufactured, but our way out is to play it straight.


Jean Yoon, Umma
What’s it been like seeing the evolution of Umma from the play to the TV series?
It’s a lot of fun because I’ll read a script and say, ‘Oh, Umma had an old boyfriend!’ or ‘Umma likes to sing!’ or ‘Umma has a friend at church,’ we see moments of tenderness and squabbling. That whole range is there. In the play, Paul and I are just sort of passing each other in the night. It’s very intense, but we get to do so much more here.

There is already a buzz about the show. Are you feeling that?
Yeah, my neighbours are all really excited. One of my neighbours stopped me in the grocery story and told me she’d seen one of the commercials. And, even the people who saw the play saw it more than once, so we already have a built-in audience.

Can you talk about the Korean immigrant experience as it relates to Kim’s Convenience?
In 1965, my family came. I think, in the Trudeau years, they changed the immigration policy. Prior to that, Canadian policy was more geared to people who would blend in, so European immigrants were favoured over Asian immigrants. Then they changed to the point system, and if you had a college degree or a trade, would bump you up. My father was a professor at the University of Toronto. But when I first came, everyone was very isolated. The Korean community really started from 1970 onwards and for them, the experience has been families working really hard to raise their kids, and their kids—especially the girls—end up growing into a culture where their ways don’t really match that of their parents.

The church is a huge cultural centre for Koreans and actually have more churches per capita than any other ethnic group. That’s where everybody meets, even if you don’t believe. Our parents work hard, sacrifice and have dreams for us, and then when the kids go off in a different direction and become photographers like Janet … or like my mother. I got a callback for an audition once and my mother answered the phone and said, ‘Jeanie doesn’t do that anymore!’ and hung up.

What were you supposed to be? 
She wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer or something like that. But I wanted to be a writer or an actor.


Simu Liu, Jung
Kim’s Convenience seems like a natural play to be developed into a TV show.
Yes, and frankly I think it’s one that doesn’t get told enough. I’m speaking from the standpoint of coming from another show with an all-Asian cast [Blood & Water] and I think that’s a huge anomaly. I find the themes in Kim’s Convenience to be universal to the Canadian identity. It’s so much a part of the Canadian identity to be an immigrant because we’re a cultural mosaic. The show is about a Korean family, but I’ve heard Polish people come up to me and tell me how much the play resonated with them. It doesn’t matter where you come from; you come to Canada in the hopes to build a better life for future generations.

So, were you supposed to be a doctor or a lawyer, or was your family going to support you not matter what you did?
My parents were both electrical engineers and work in aerospace. I went to a school for gifted kids and enrolled in a private school. They did everything they could to nudge me along that path and I just couldn’t do it.

When we meet up with Jung in the first episode, he’s detailing cars at a rental place. He’s estranged from his father. Is he trying to rebuild that relationship with Appa this season?
Yes, you’ll see that. It’s Jung and his best friend, Kimchee, dealing with life. But then there is always something peppered in about the past between Appa and Jung. Whether they get to that reconciliation, I can’t say for sure, but there is definitely movement on that front.


Andrea Bang, Janet
How did you end up getting the role of Janet?
I had heard about the show and talked to my agent. I submitted a self-tape and then heard back to come and do a test in Toronto. That whole process was about two and a half months.

Everyone on the cast has told me how this story has resonated with them personally. What about you?
Oh, totally. A lot of the things Umma or Appa would think, or their viewpoints on life, are super-similar to either my own parents or people that I know of. A lot of the people I hang out with are also Asian-Canadians. Even when I read the audition I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is so me.’

Talk about the relationship between Janet and Appa. It seems pretty contentious from the scenes I saw you film with Paul.
I sometimes call Janet ‘Mini-Appa,’ because they are very similar in a lot of ways, especially the stubbornness. For me, those were some of the most fun scenes to do with Paul because we’re always trying to one-up each other and gets so ridiculous. Appa is so stubborn and Janet has become progressively more stubborn as a result. But Janet also brings out a side of Appa that no one else does because they are so similar.

Kim’s Convenience airs Tuesday at 9 and 9:30 p.m. on CBC on Oct. 11. After that, episodes air Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.


Can Train 48 get back on track in Canada?

Steve Levitan is trying to get Train 48 back on track, and now seems like the perfect time to do it.

“The format that, at the time, I thought was innovative today is even more strategically smart,” Levitan says.

For those who don’t recall, Train 48 was an anomaly on the Canadian TV landscape. Broadcast on Global from 2003 until 2005 and based on the Australian series Going Home, the soapy series followed the daytime commute of a small group of characters from Toronto to Burlington, Ont. Before cell phones became the norm, folks would travel on the train and talk about the day’s events, often amongst the same four people sitting together. Levitan and his writers mirrored that for Train 48, mapping rough conversations and then letting the cast go, free forming the discussions to make them more real. Among the cast on Train 48 were Krista Sutton, Paul Braunstein, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Joe Dinicol, Raoul Bhaneja, Amy Price-Francis and Lisa Merchant, who filmed an episode every weekday for two years.


“I sort of vaguely remember getting up at 4:30 a.m. to drive into the set,” Merchant, who played Brenda Murphy, recalls. “We’d get into costume and have a meeting with the producer, have breakfast, and then it was time to get rolling. We’d be finished by 2:30 p.m. and then would do it all over again the next day.”

“Even though those of us who did it have done a lot of things in our careers, we’ve haven’t done anything like it again,” Bhaneja, who portrayed Pete Subramani, says. “It was such a unique journey. We’d be picked up in a van convoy, climb into our fake GO Train set, film and then what we did would be on TV that night. It was crazy.”

As a daily commuter into Toronto myself at the time, I totally got what Train 48 was all about. Aside from being tonally different from what was on television at the time, Train 48 broke new technological ground as well. Levitan recalls how Global wanted to drive traffic to its fledgling Canada.com website; the show placed Pete on the phone his bookie betting on that night’s Toronto Blue Jays-New York Yankees game. Viewers were urged to visit the website to vote who they thought would win the game; Canada.com crashed for days.

So, why the attention for Train 48 after 13 years? Because episodes are rolling out on the show’s YouTube channel. The show’s distributor, Syndicado (a deal structured through Farrago Media Inc.), suggested they be posted online and Levitan said yes. Train 48 certainly works airing on YouTube, but it would be a perfect fit for Canada’s streaming channels CraveTV and shomi. Levitan thinks so too, but no broadcaster has been interested. He also believes the format is the perfect formula for television today. Levitan points to Orphan Black, which attracts 250,000 viewers for Space every week at a cost of millions per episode versus his show, which attracted 250,000 viewers or more every night of the week at a cost of $40,000 per instalment. The model, he says, still works today.

“There are lots of ways to keep doing Train 48,” Levitan says. “And there are lots of ways to update or change the creative focus of that format, depending on who your network or audience is.”

Check out all of Train 48’s episodes as they roll out on YouTube.