Binge-r #113: Kim's Convenience + Homecoming + Outlaw King
KIM’S CONVENIENCE S1 + S2
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 13 episodes of both seasons now streaming
Two examples is a trend so now it’s official: Canadian sitcoms about fractious clans are Netflix’s secret comic weapon. After the riches to rags Schitt’s Creek [full review here] proved to be raucous and relatable, Kim’s Convenience reveals itself as a nimble dive into how a family unit looks so different to those inside and outside it. Set in and around the titular Toronto corner store, it spotlights Mr Kim (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) or ‘Appa’ (Korean for dad), who is seemingly incapable of leaving the front counter, and his wife Mrs Kim (Jean Yoon) or ‘Umma’ (Korean for mum), and their adult children, Jung (Simu Liu) and Janet (Andrea Bang) – although Umma has a habit of interfering in their lives in a way that suggests few strings have been cut.
Kim’s Convenience takes archetypes such as the meddling mother – Umma’s great hope for Janet is to have a “cool Christian Korean boyfriend” – and leans hard into the cultural specifics so that the tradition gives way to absurdity, which in turns reveals a measure of understanding. The show’s great trick, delivered with offhand bemusement, is to be both agreeable and challenging as it bats differing expectations back and forth. There’s a natural friction between the conservative Korean-born parents and their Canadian-born and raised offspring, but tradition and blood makes them bend in unexpected and humorous ways.
Creators Ins Choi and Kevin White, working from the former’s award-winning stage play of the same name, don’t have the manic energy prevalent in modern television comedies – there are no cut away gags to expose a hopeful fib or flights of surreal fantasy. The show it initially reminded me of was Ronnie Barker’s Open All Hours, a BBC sitcom from the early 1980s. But it can be subtly incisive, as when Janet, who is studying photography, has to explain to her professor that her parents weren’t refugees – “they flew here” – and that the teacher shouldn’t assume that their trauma would naturally be reflected in her work. The professor makes a whole new set of false assumptions, especially after she meets Appa.
The plotting across the two seasons available widens out the roll call, with a special shout out for Nicole Power’s Shannon, who plays Jung’s boss at the car rental company where he works. Shannon’s thirst for Jung is full to the brim, and Power has that Kristen Wiig knack of playing a character who can’t help saying out loud what should remain private. The continuing estrangement of Jung, a reformed bad boy, from Appa is one of several spines the show builds off, finding both laughter and pain in it, with the Canadian setting allowing for a polite acceptance of differences that an American version would never allow for. Kim’s Convenience is never merely sweet, there’s a sting to its dexterous turns, but like the store where it’s set it’s accessible and well stocked. Snack away.
In Brief: Homecoming (Amazon, 10 episodes): Directed with an eerie precision – the tracking shots tingle with unease, negative space abounds, and the god’s eye views from above suggest organisms in an unknown environment – by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, this quietly audacious series about a former therapist, Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts), and her connection to a private facility helping U.S. soldiers re-integrate into society speaks the language of paranoia. There’s the confluence of corporate and government need, exemplified by oily executive Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale), and the suggestion of conspiracies, but as it unfolds, simultaneously from the perspective of Heidi’s work in 2018 and her attempts to remember what happened there several years into the future, there’s an almost tender air of enquiry. This is not a breathless thriller, it’s an intimate drama about trauma, memory, and what we’re willing to acknowledge. It is both tense and heartrending, drawing a starkly sustained performance from Roberts that provides a vision of how women are gaslighted and the price they pay for it. The themes are of the moment while the music is vintage – licensed from classic chillers such as Three Days of the Condor – and like nearly everything in this essential show the juxtaposition is both engaging and inexplicable.
>> Other Reading: Orson Welles’ posthumously completed 1970s mockumentary The Other Side of the Wind and the documentary about its making, Morgan Neville’s They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, are both imperfect films, but watched together on Netflix they’re a fascinating pairing. I wrote about the twinned features for The Monthly [full review here].
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
Outlaw King (Netflix, 2018, 121 minutes): The story of Robert the Bruce, who in the 14th century claimed the vacant throne of Scotland and led a successful insurrection against English occupation, has the traditional form of a Hollywood period epic; Kirk Douglas could have played the lead role in 1958. Scottish filmmaker David Mackenzie, cashing in the capital earnt by his compelling 2016 crime drama Hell or High Water, takes those touchstones of feuding nobles, a hero for an oppressed people, and rugged battles and tries to make them authentic and individual – every necessary broad stroke has a moment of studied clarification. “Are you a good man?” Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s James Douglas asks Chris Pine’s Robert when the rebellion starts. “I’m trying to be,” he replies, but if there’s a political message to the film, which is rich in English atrocities, it’s that victory can’t accommodate rules. There’s a thoughtful role for Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth) as Elizabeth, the English wife from a political betrothal who sticks with Robert, but the narrative, studded with panoramic vistas and grimy extras, inevitably accelerates towards a climactic battle. Is it a good film? It’s trying to be.
New on Netflix: James McAvoy gives the showy performance, but the best thing in M. Night Shyamalan’s excessive horror tale Split (2016, 117 minutes) is the remarkable Anya Taylor-Joy as a taut survivor; State of Play (2009, 129 minutes) is an above-average Hollywood remake of a British political thriller with a loaded cast: Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, and Ben Affleck.
New on SBS on Demand: Richard Lowenstein’s story of a ramshackle punk-era Melbourne share house, Dogs in Space (1986, 104 minutes) is an underappreciated Australian feature, fronted by Michael Hutchence as an indolent musician; an austere but ultimately resonant period drama about faith’s fortitude, Martin Scorsese’s Silence (2016, 154 minutes) stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as monks secretly preaching in 17th century Japan.
New on Stan: With a towering performance both fraught and funny from Brendan Gleeson as a priest marked for death, Calvary (2014, 97 minutes) is John Michael McDonagh’s exhumation of Ireland’s fractures; Gerard Butler is a conveyor belt of minor action films – Den of Thieves (2018, 140 minutes) is duplicitous Los Angeles cops and robbers that nods to Michael Mann’s magisterial Heat.
>> Want BINGE-R sent to your inbox? Click here for the weekly e-mail.