We need geeks.
Artists, performers, writers, engineers, scientists make up fandoms and fans are geeks, but they’re all dreamers too; we need more nerds to make dreams reality and quite frankly, make this world a better place.
Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, the award-winning and beloved star of the smash Canadian comedy, Kim’s Convenience (streaming on Netflix and CBC’s GEM), is more than just a Canadian icon; he’s a bona-fide, dyed-in-the-wool renaissance geek whose dreams brought him success. Through the lens of a Korean immigrant convenience store-owner, Appa, he brings laughter and clarity as he shows society how similar we all are to each other than we realize. That helps make the world a better place.
At the foundation of it all though, this couldn’t happen if he wasn’t a sci-fi-watchin’, fandom-lovin’, nerd-cultured geek! All geeks have a similar profile based in rich, fertile imaginations. It allows us to dream big and it all came from somewhere that we fellow nerds can relate to.
So, we delved.
“My earliest geek memories – my dad taking me to see Star Wars in 1977! Oh, I also remember dressing up as Mr. Spock in grade four for Halloween.” He related to me, chuckling. “I grew up as a Trekkie, arguing with my Dad on Saturday nights. He wanted to watch Hockey Night in Canada and the line up was Looney Tunes, Space: 1999 and then it was Star Trek. Saturday night was an important television night, growing up, much to my dad’s chagrin. But that just showed how much he loved me: he let me watch these shows instead of him watching Hockey!”
Television was the gateway to fandoms for many nerds. But, so were games. Paul also played Dungeons and Dragons, Star Fleet Battles, and sci-fi role-playing games like Star Frontiers. He built Lego sets, read a lot and like the rest of us, built up fantasy worlds that fueled his imagination.
The geek influence was heavily formative in his life, and subsequently his career. The typical geek capacity for remembering movie lines that not simultaneously annoys and amuses friends at parties. Where would we be without it? But, in Paul’s case, what a great skill for remembering his own lines! Developing those memory skills are essential to not only an actor but for a true fan.
“Gigantic. Good Lord! I think people who know me, always know I have a line but it’s always culled from a movie. My wife didn’t realize she married a walking Simpsons quote generator! She always thought I was naturally witty, but no, I was just aping The Simpsons!”
The luxury to pursue fandoms happens when we are secure in our own minds. Geeks pursue fandoms because they not only represent values that we can relate to, but have the freedom to explore, often encouraged by a loving family. Ironically, Paul’s character Appa, is hardly a nerd. There’s no way that the hardworking store-owner would allow himself to be distracted by moments of fantasy. But Mr. Kim is dedicated to his family and there are moments in this show that are definitely linked to the same willingness of Paul’s dad to let his son watch Star Trek. We see this love in Kim’s Convenience; a love that recognizes a love of fandom.
“Off-screen, I have so much fun. Like, when [co-star] Andrew Phung and I connected over Ghostbusters. It was Ghostbusters Day!” Paul referred to the screen-quality Ghostbusters uniform he created, complete with a working proton pack he brought in during Season One of rehearsals.
But Paul doesn’t stop there. An honorary member of the Toronto Garrison of the 501st Legion – the Star Wars Fan Organization, Paul has a collection of Rebel and Imperial costumes. Every geek’s dream – who wouldn’t want to cosplay as a character from Star Wars?
Paul is a frequent Convention visitor and he and the show saw activity on the con scene recently too. With appearances at Canada’s Fan Expos (Toronto, Calgary, etc.), Kim’s Convenience has found a home with many of the kindred geeks who attend these shows and understand the type of humour the television series offers.
“Andrew Phung and I managed to get a large portion of the cast to join us on the Con Circuit this past August. We did this one panel and what was really great was to see these guys – who had never been to a Con before – sit there and discover how passionate fans in the geek universe are. Because when you win geeks as fans, you will never get a more devoted group of people to follow you. I loved watching that. To connect with geeks – to have them see you and say ‘these guys are on TV; they’re good at what they do – and they’re like us!’ I think that adds to the entire experience.”
Kim’s Convenience has so many ancillary levels of geek appreciation. Along with co-star, Jean Yoon (Umma), Paul has credits on Dark Matter.
“Jean stabbed me through the head with a pair of chopsticks!” Paul recollected, laughing.
Of course, Jean needs to be acknowledged for her dynamic performance as Captain Yao in the first season of The Expanse. But recently, Simu Liu, who plays Jung, Appa’s estranged son, was recently tagged as Shang Chi in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s upcoming latest film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Present day geek loves include The Mandalorian.
“They get it the tone right on that show. It feels like Star Wars, great storytelling – it’s exploring a different path. It’s in-universe, but it’s a fresh story and I really appreciate that. I love the twists and the motifs that made the original Star Wars that made it so appealing. The lone samurai, the ‘spaghetti-westerns’ – I love the level of detail that Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni have brought. They’re fans – you can tell and they’re doing their best to get it right.”
Fans – nerds – dreamers. Trying to get it right. I asked Paul to leave other fans and dreamers with some advice.
“Speak with your passions,” Paul says to aspiring fellow dreamers and geeks. “These things will carry you – be a part of you – for your entire life. For me, they have left an indelible mark upon me and shaped who I am. But, the big thing, I would say is: do no harm. There seems to be edge in fandoms now – toxic fandom, it saddens me. Acceptance, openness of mind, diversity and representation are what we should aspiring to and I seem to see a decrease of these things in fandoms as of late, and my big thing is mutual respect, do no harm and follow your passions.”
Which is what Kim’s Convenience stands for, I offered.
“I think so.” Paul agreed.
More geeks please, and don’t spare the passion.
Kim’s Convenience Seasons One through Three can be seen on Netflix.
Season Four begins tonight, January 7th, on CBC and can be streamed on CBC GEM.