By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Contributor
A road rage incident occurring at a retail store parking lot causes two strangers to have a dark meet-cute moment. Beef follows the aftermath of this moment and the story that comes from it. Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) is a failing contractor with a huge chip on his shoulder. He goes on a full-on head-to-head conflict with Amy Lau (Ali Wong), a self-made entrepreneur with an almost idyllic life. The increasing stakes of their feud and tensions unravel their lives and relationships and transform the series into a dark comedic look at emotions, relationships and revenge.
Created by Lee Sung Jin, who has been a writer on big-name comedy series such as Silicon Valley and 2 Broke Girls, Beef is an interesting study into how far revenge plans can go and how many other people can be dragged into these plans. On a deeper level, it is also a very original and authentic storyline that goes beyond the typical Asian series and film narratives that focus on just being Asian and themed on the premise of identity.
In a recent news conference AsAmNews participated in, Yeun spoke about the importance of original storylines as the primary reason for being involved in this project.
“When Sonny (Lee Sung Jin), called me about it, it started as a random conversation. I was intrigued when he mentioned his idea of centering the story around road rage. I thought that this was a simple premise, yet authentic and would have flexibility on where the plot can go. I loved being a part of Beef because of how realistic, yet layered and fun the whole premise and dialogue was.”
For Wong, reading the script and understanding the premise of the series reminded her of an experience of road rage she was involved in when she was younger. Having that experience gave her an innate understanding of how to play Amy in the series and it also gave her ideas to create some comedic moments, which everyone knows is her forte.
“I remember it was a BMW SUV that honked at me and said a bunch of awful things as it raced off. I guess to that driver I was driving too slow. At that time, it made me think about how there are people who are so stuck in their subjective views of reality that they are projecting their assumptions onto the other person. Thinking back, I am thankful for that experience as it helped me develop Amy into a weird but awesome person”, she said.
Looking through the cast of Beef, it is difficult not to smile seeing all the Asian names in the main and supporting cast. Joining Yeun and Wong in the main cast are Joseph Lee who plays George Nakai, Young Mazino who plays Paul Cho, David Choe who plays Isaac Cho and Patti Yasutaki as Fumi Nakai.
At the recent roundtable interview, both Lee and Mazino were asked about their characters subvert or uphold stereotypes of Asian men.
“For us, it’s just interesting to be able to present Asian men that actually exist in real life, who are struggling and trying to refine our own masculinity. And I think that’s apparent not only within the characters we both play but it’s a real societal issue. I am glad in this series, we are able to show one shade of issues Asian men face”, Lee expressed.
“I think for my character specifically, he takes pride in how he looks and wants to represent himself to be a man of great physique and strength. However, in reality, he is quite different from that and a lot of internal stuff gets spilled out when my character encounters the revenge chaos in Beef“, Mazino said.
This idea of representing Asian men as they actually exists is an important point, and even though Yeun didn’t discuss this issue explicitly during the press conference, he alluded to it when he spoke about his experience in playing Danny. As someone who has really only worked in more serious roles, the switch to comedy would be an interesting challenge.
“It didn’t feel like a switch, because I am playing an Asian American man who is living an unfortunate drama of life. As Steven, I am playing Danny, but really I am watching Danny go through all his failures in life. The real challenge was to play him and not judge or cringe at the things I had to do playing him, particularly the petty revenge tactics against Amy“.
Finally, the creator of the series Lee Sung Jin spoke about the challenges in writing the story behind this random, yet original storyline. Lee said the theme of road rage is what sold Netflix on the series. He also felt grateful to have great writers to assist him in the writing room and to have relationships with both Yeun, Wong and the other cast members who were able to improve on the script as they played their characters during the filming process.
“Writing for Beef was very hard and challenging. Writing the roles for Steven, Ali and all the other cast members who are talented at their craft was a daunting experience. But, with the help of the cast and the other writers, we were able to ensure the progressions in the script were just right and that each scene felt good and fluid. I think what helped was adding textures and specificities that felt true to life and to people which made each character in this series feel real”, he said.
Beef will start streaming on Netflix on April 6, 2023.
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