Why Jung in ‘Kim’s Convenience’ is Huge for Asian Masculinity
There’s a scene in season one of “Kim’s Convenience” — within episode 8, entitled “Service,” to be exact — wherein Simu Liu‘s character, Jung, plays a one-on-one basketball game with his friend Alex, played by Michael Xavier.
Jung trash talks Alex, spins him off the dribble and dunks the ball (on a likely shortened rim). He then takes off his shirt in front of a group of admiring young women, revealing six pack abs and a tattoo of the South Korean flag. Though Alex calls him out for being “shameless” in this moment, Jung is a character with a well-rounded personality and genuine concern for those around him. He just happens to be incredibly handsome as well.
Growing up, I hardly saw Asian male characters in TV or film; the ones I did see were quite often social pariahs, comedic relief. They were never the dashing hero that sweeps the leading lady off her feet; they were never even the overly masculine bully. Aside from your occasional martial arts film, there was simply not going to be a lead who looked something like me who could prove to me that I could be just as wanted, just as strong as any white man.
Things seem to be changing now. “Crazy Rich Asians” put men like Henry Golding and Pierre Png on a platform where they could woo audience members with their good looks; Pierre gets a shirtless scene that had my Queens movie theater gleefully ogling. Even K-Pop stars, while not fitting typical conventions of masculinity, are causing crazed swoons on your timeline. But don’t let Simu Liu fly under your radar.
“Kim’s Convenience” is a masterclass in situational family comedy; there are no laugh tracks injected or heavy handed political storylines (though its writers do not shy away from hot-button topics). The show merely offers storytelling; multi-dimensional characters that really act like people, with just touches of the cleverness and zaniness that puts the drama and humor over the top. Simu Liu’s character, a 20-something trying to make something of himself in a business setting after a turbulent childhood, gives you a spectrum: sensitivity, humor, boneheadedness, fear.
That basketball scene had me shouting with pride in my living room; it was such a refreshing moment to see an Asian man showing off, actively flaunting his basketball skills and his attractiveness to onlookers. Even in moments when Asian men are seen as hunks, they’re not encouraged to flaunt it.
It all seems tied in to the stereotypes of being a model minority: the “model” in question is one of servitude, one of a polite success that does not intimidate or interfere with the social norms of the majority.
I’m not sure how I’d feel if I had seen “Kim’s Convenience” when I was younger. Perhaps I’d feel more encouraged to pursue my acting hobby in a serious manner. Maybe I’d be the same exact person. What I do know is that this type of representation in our media matters; and that hopefully, given the success of “Kim’s Convenience,” this is only the beginning of a change.
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