On Demand Revenge: Beef is the tv series that America, Asian America, Korean America, and I needed NOW

America is going to talk about Beef for a long time. The show is hitting larger zeitgeist. You don’t have to be Asian to get many aspects of Beef. America is a very angry country at the moment. The revenge in Beef is fueled by social media and the internet. I know that people my children’s age (Gen Z) can’t imagine a time without social media or the internet and on demand streaming. My children couldn’t stop laughing when I told them when I was in junior high school we would talk about getting home in time to watch the latest Michael Jackson video on MTV. What no live streaming? You didn’t even have cell phones back then. How did you know what time it was was? We have watches, or specifically Swatches.

We are living in an era of vitriolic social media feuds where people can access each other’s personal information and whereabouts in ways that were not possible before the internet. We are living in an era where unhappy people with too much free time can target anyone else online for the most trivial reason. We are living in an era where anyone feels power by leaving a negative review. We are living in an era where this power, however false, can be exercised anonymously.

Years ago, an Indian American professor felt slighted because I disagreed with his Korean American wife’s Korean restaurant reccomendation. This professor preceded to troll me and my husband online for over five years. He wrote bad reviews about our recipes that were published in Gourmet Magazine, “tastes like MacDonalds”. He trolled us on food forums for grammatical errors. Yes, the Indian professor was an English professor. It was the beginning of on demand revenge in America. Without the internet and the ability to comment on any published article, this professor and I would have never crossed paths again.

Asian America is going to talk about Beef for a long time. It’s going to ride into this fall and beyond. Everyday there are new takes on another aspect of Beef, whether it’s how Asian American men are represented or how beef nailed the Korean family dynamics or the Korean church.

The cartography of Beef is my home town. I know all the Asian American characters in Beef. I’ve been in their spaces and inside their homes. I’ve eaten with them. Beef is a game changer for Asian American creatives behind the scenes and in front of the scenes.

I have never felt this seen and this satisfied with Asian American representation.

I live a few blocks away from Hanbat Shul Lung Tang, the Korean soup restaurant where Danny’s family goes to eat. I location sourced the restaurant for Andrew Zimmern’s show. Yes, I met Andrew. No comment. Hanbat opened in 1988. It’s one of those restaurants that practically every Korean in LA City knows about.

Looks like it’s been there for 50 years

I chortled when Danny ended up at Arena night club. I don’t go to night clubs, but even I know about this place. It’s a hard pumping party place. Late at night, I’ve seen Korean men and women so drunk that they have to carried by their friends, sometimes while sobbing.

My cousin is the lead pastor at a second generation Korean American church. My kids used to go to his church and my mother’s church. My kids went to Saturday Korean school at OMC (Oriental Mission Church) for several years.

The juxtaposition of Amy and George in a sterile Western pyschological space with Amy cynically repeating what she thinks George and the Asian American pyschologist want to hear; and Danny sobbing at a Korean American church is nothing short of brilliant. Neither setting is satisfying or healing. Neither method really works. I’ve watched the clip of Danny singing Amazing Grace over a dozen times. How is Steven Yeun this multi-talented? And I’ve been in that space feeling the same emotions.

My 19 year old son saw Steven Yeun at Salt and Straw on Larchmont Blvd. My 24 year old daughter and I saw Conan O’Brian crossing the street towards us on Larchmont Blvd. Larchmont is adjacent to Koreatown. I remember when I was 26 years old, a white woman said to me that Larchmont Village isn’t a place for “your kind.” In 1994, The Los Angeles Times published a racially loaded article about the Koreans moving into Hancock Park. Now Larchmont Village is brimming with Koreans and the staff at Salt and Straw are giddy that Steven Yeun and a member of BTS patronized them.

Noah’s Bagels gets slammed with older and senior Korean customers on weekends

My deceased aunt lived in Westlake Village for four decades. In a gated community, no less. I went to junior high school in Tarzana. Calabassas is smack in between Westlake Village and Tarzana. I know the rich West Valley Koreans too. Naomi is someone I know. A Korean American friend of mine lives in nearby Encino and she does things like jetting around America with her friends to eat at the priciest restaurants from New York to Sonoma. Her uncle owns a private jet company. She invited me over to her house when she flew in Buddhist monk chef Jeong Kwan of Netflix Chef’s Table fame. The famous chef cooked for us. This is the most exclusive dining experience. You can’t buy it with money. You need to know someone who can fly in a famous Buddhist monk chef and thinks you’re just right for the experience.

Calabasses Realtor showing off Westlake Village Gated Communities
Lotus flower tea ceremony with Jeong Kwan

I’m friends with or aquaintances with numerous people involved with Gyopo US. They helped me fundraise for homeless Koreans and I was a panelist on one of their programs. I found at that Joseph Lee (George) did an exhibtion with Gyopo US and a Korean American clothing designer that my daughter models for once dated Joseph. I’m familiar with Amy, George, and Fumi and their cartography. Gyopo US does a lot of cool, grassroots programming. But they’re affiliated with elite or luxury Korean diasporic artists who curate or exhibit at world class museums all over the world.

This benefit was a few blocks from my house in Hancock Park. The Hancock Park Koreans are also a thing.

I’ve read numerous takes on Beef written by Asian Americans who grew up in the 1990s or 1980s. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for over 48 years and I really needed to see Asian American rage and complexities portrayed on screen.

The 1970s were a dismal decade for Asian American representation on screen. I remember watching reruns of The Courtship of Eddie’s Father with my brothers. We just wanted to see an Asian face on screen. I don’t even remember the particulars of the show. I only remember Miyoshi Umeki playing a maid and saying, “Mr. Eddie’s father” with a heavy Japanese accent. Eddie was an elementary school aged child that an Asian maid called “Mr.” I choked on that one. A few kids at school asked me if the maid was my mom.

My brothers and I also watched Kung Fu starring David Carradine as a Chinese man. Yes, a few kids at school thought it was funny to constantly tell me to snatch a pebble from their hand. At a time when there was so little Asian representation on screen, kids at school associated ANY representation with me or my brothers.

Asians were incidental and minor characters in any number of American westerns. But the portrayals were always deliberately racist, demeaning, or caricatures. In other words propagandistic “weird, perpetual foreigners”. Off the top of my head, I don’t remember them being more than cooks, laundry workers, domestic servants, or dragon ladies.

My brothers and I really enjoyed watching Hong Kong martial arts films. But this was a double edged sword. We were also constantly asked if Bruce Lee is our uncle and to show off some kung fu skills by other kids at school.

One day, when I was in elementary school and my brothers were in Junior high and high school, we were walking in the San Fernando Valley with Kenny, a Cantonese American friend. His family was from Hong Kong. A group of kids started teasing us and calling us racial slurs. They eventually asked us if we knew Kung Fu. We said, “Yes” and started fighting back and beat them up. My brothers and I had were taking Tae Kwon Do and Kenny was taking Kung Fu at the time. So yeah, Asians do get angry and we fight back.

My parents have always been connected to Korean content since they immigrated in 1975. I remember watching 1970s Korean variety shows and dramas. Most of the shows featured Trot and ballad singers. The dramas weren’t anywhere near the production quality of todays K-Dramas or art house cinema.

Beef (tv series) Asian Americans Behind the Scenes Part 5

Asian American creative talent wasn’t limited to the showrunner and cast. Helen Huang was the costume designer/stylist and Grace Yun was the production designer. Representation matters behind the scenes. The details add to the visual story telling.

I see a little bit of me or someone I’m close to in all the Asian American characters in Beef.

I recognized Amy Hua’s octaganal glasses. They’re from the company Dita, a pricey eyewear line that bills itself as “a discreet luxury”. I have two pairs of Dita glasses, one prescription (the round version of Amy’s) and a pair of sunglasses.

I recognized Fumi’s penchant for Issey Miyake and Japanese avant garde fashion designers. Fumi is stuck in the 1980s, when this sort of fashion was peaking and so was her late husband’s art career. Her heavy eye makeup reinforces her sense of being held hostage to past glory.

I almost bought the multi-colored Issey Miyake coat Fumi wears. Issey Miyake is my favorite fashion designer of all time. While my choices aren’t as over the top as Fumi’s, Miyake pieces make up a decent portion of my everyday clothing.

Amy’s everyday wear at home and her place of business is “white coastal grandma” with lots of light colors and oversized silhouettes. At times, I come close to this look. However, my look veers away from white grandma to “international Asian creative with a minimalist and avant garde twist”. I look like I write poetry and make my own doenjang. I also look like I don’t get dirty and sometimes shrouded in blanket. I sometimes cocoon myself or hide behind baggy clothing. But the baggy clothing sometimes has an East Asian look to it.

I have high fashion fur pieces my mother and aunt gifted me. One is a Fendi knit mink coat that most people do not assume is real fur. Most people don’t seem to know what kind of material it is. The same with a knit mink Christian Dior poncho I have. Maybe these items are Naomi adjacent. But Naomi wants others to know that she is wearing bling. I don’t want others to know that I am wearing bling.

Naomi carries bling logo bags. I don’t. I have a few that my mother gave me. But when I carry them, I get too many comments. Almost everybody recognizes bling logo bags from “luxury” brands and pseudo luxury bags. Naomi broadcasts her wealth. She wants everybody to know including the cashier at the supermarket. I have a dozen Hermes canvas bags that I toss around like I don’t care. No logos. My go to bags are beat up Longchamp, which I tie with Hermes scarves.

I also have a lot of vintage pieces from different parts of the world, including well worn expensive French shoes. And vintage American clothes, some with a hint of hippy. This shows that I’m worldy (cosmopolitan) and Californian (relaxed, down to earth) at the same time. I also have four custom made hanbok, a 24k gold norigae, and durumagi (traditional silk over coat).

All the wardrobe styling in Beef is detailed and speaks to character.

George, the house husband who makes phallic turd sculptures, is curated in expensive clothes that lack utilitarian purpose. He’s doesn’t need to work or dress for work. His work is fitting in with Amy’s aesthetics. He’s all optics. Danny and Paul are stuck in a mall that George would never be seen in. Isaac is individualistic.

Much has been said about the slats in Amy’s house that resemble a prison. However, I haven’t seen any commentary about her bathroom, which also looks like a prison latrine, albeit an artistic one. Amy’s home also void of any Asian heritage markers. No shoes lined up at the front door. No rice cooker. No Asian foods. A white person could live in her home. She spent a fortune on designing a home that speaks nothing of her except her sense of imprisonment. Whiteness and artsy Japanese are commodities that Amy pursues. Whiteness for it’s entry into capitalism’s wealth. Artsy Japanese for it’s social and art world currency; and pedigree. She gives her plant business a Japanese sounding name, “Koyo” instead of a Chinese-Viet name or non-ethnic name. When she does point to Asianess, it’s her Japanese American husband and mother-in-law, who are probably 2nd and 3rd generation Japanese Americans. It’s no wonder that Danny initially assumes that her husband is a white man. I would too.

Danny’s home is all working class, first or 1.5 generation Korean immigrant. He and his brother, Paul, eat banchan out of take out containers. There is stuff everywhere. It’s not just the disorder. There’s hoarding. Koreans hoard. My parents hoard. I hoard.

I live in Hancock Park, the other Koreatown that is adjacent to the official Koreatown, but a world away from the Cho brothers. But I relate to the way they live more than I do Amy. Shoes are cluttered at my front door. I have a kimchi refrigerator that I bought during pandemic. Covid-19 and anti-East Asian hate, made me become even more entrenched in my Koreaness. Last year, I started making my own kimchi, fermented soybeans (doenjang), fermented chili paste (gochujang), and traditional soy sauce (Joseon ganjang).

My Korean calligraphy desk is in my living room. The Korean silver and brass spoons, chopsticks, fruit forks, and demitasse spoons my mother gave me are in mahogany silver ware chest along with my American and European silver cutlery. My mother also gave me her traditional Korean cast iron and clay pots. I have a 200 year old antique Korean desk with phoenixes carved into them. It was stained with natural plant dyes and the finish is still brilliant. In other words, my parents are from the former yangban class. I have Korean pedigree and heirlooms.

My husband is a French born Algerian chef and culinary instructor. So we have a lot of North African tagines, Le Creuset, and Staub. Our dinner ware is French and English porcelain, North African clay, and Korean bras and celadon. We kind of have the cookware version of Jordan’s crowns. Except, our own cultures are represented. We didn’t appropriate like Jordan. We didn’t divest of heritage culture like Amy and George.

I speak English like Fumi, George, Amy, or Jordan when I want to. They don’t all speak the same way. I can sound as commanding and demanding as Fumi or Jordan. These are codes I use. However, I can also speak like David Choe’s character, Isaac or Samuel L. Jackson.

Beef (tv series) and Asian American Sex Part 4

White America is fixated on the road rage and revenge aspects of Beef (tv series). Asian Americans and the Asian diaspora in the Western world continue to peel back all the layers of Beef. There is so much there in Beef.

When I think of white media portrayals of Asian sexuality, the women are passive, war time prostitutes, or masseuses. Asian men are void of sex.

Asian Americans have sex in Beef. All kinds of sex.

Chinese-Viet-American Amy uses a gun as a sex toy. She tells George, her Japanese American husband, that sex with him is too vanilla. She has furtive, exhilarating, and seemingly liberating sex with Paul. Paul, a Korean American man, is a sexual delivery man. George masturbates to a photo of Kayla, Amy’s assistant. Danny masturbates to a photo of Amy’s butt thinking that it’s Kayla’s butt.

Paul, Amy’s temporary lover

Amy has anonymous sex with a much older white man she met on Yahoo Chess. She keeps herself covered with a blanket and refuses to face him. I won’t read too much into choosing a white man. I think it’s more about the fact that they will most likely never run into each other and he’s out of touch with lifestyle brands like Koyohaus.

Korean American Naomi, leaves her white husband for his billionaire sister. Jordan, a white woman, is the main perpertrator of fetishizing and appropriating Asianness.

Asian Americans have sex in Beef. Because human beings have sex. They have secretive sex. Shameful sex. Exhilirating sex. Glorious sex. Lesbian sex. They have sex alone.

Beef (tv series), Korean American Representation, and Korean Koreaness Part 3

I’ve seen something like Beef before. I’ve never seen anything like Beef before.

I got my hair cut and styled today at a Korean salon in Koreatown. My stylist and I talked about Beef. Specifically about Korean style beef, which always involves an injustice or perception of injustice and revenge. We agreed that Beef (tv series) shares many with elements of Korean Dramas and cinema.

Revenge is a common theme in Korea Dramas (“The Glory”) and cinema. Strangers from completely different backgrounds colliding and becoming deeply enmeshed in each other’s lives is another (“Parasite” or any number of K-Dramas or K-love stories). Greed is another common theme. In the Korean imagination, revenge destroys the avenger or those close to them. Greed is a destructive lust that only grows until it consumes and blinds.

Paul in his bathroom
Parasite characters in their sub-basement bathroom

Beef combines the two tropes. Danny and Amy have a greed for revenge. I’ve seen something like this before. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Beef is so much more.

Beef is also an American rage movie. The series is clicking with Americans of different ethnicities or races. Asian Americans really crave the glory of seeing angry Asian Americans represented on screen and differences between different Asian ethnicities. It’s my favorite Korean American immigrant story and Korean Drama. All of these viewer experiences are true at the same time.

My stylist and I often talk about Koreans and our cultural tendencies. We chatted about the Han and hwa-byung in Beef. The specificty of Korean style beef. There’s a Korean saying, “You want to die together?” or “We’re going to die together today” and variations thereof. The idea is that in the face of injustice, a Korean person will fight to the death. And yes, statements like “I’ll fight you to till I die!” are not uncommon. My stylist and I wondered why we Korean people are like this. Is it because we’re a tiny country surrounded by super powers? Our worst enemy is our own people? North and South Korea are still technically at war. A common Korean sentiment is that Koreans will unite quickly in the face of a common enemy. However, we in-fight brutaly in times of peace and prosperity.

Beef (tv series), Korean American Representation, and Korean Koreaness Part 2

Beef isn’t a story about immigrants in America. Yet, it is the best Korean immigrant story I have ever seen on a mainstream platform.

The show’s creator, Lee Sung Jin, has said “the characters happen to be Asian”. Nobody happens to be Asian. There’s nothing accidental or incidental to the casting and characters. The brilliance of Lee’s writing is that he focuses on character.

The age you were when your family immigrated to America matters. When and where you landed matters. Where your parents came from matters. What your parents did for a living in Korea matters. Who your family was and is in Korea matter. Who you know in America matters. Immigrants do not arrive as blank slates. You make it or sink based on a lot of these factors and more.

Lee Sung Jin, the creator and showrunner of Beef, immigrated to the United States after completing 5th grade. I’m guessing his family moved around 1992. Steven Yeun immigrated to Canada as a kindergartener. I’m guessing his family came around 1990. They both entered America in the 1990s.

My family immigrated from Seoul to Los Angeles in January of 1975. My oldest brother was about 10 years old. I was 5 years old. I had completed two years of preschool. I’m about half a generation older than Lee and Yeun. Many Korean immigrants who came when my family did were part of the professional class or highly skilled in trades. They were largely people who were already doing well relative to other Koreans in Korea and generally better educated than other immigrant groups in America. By skill, luck, chance, hard work, and accidents of history many appear to have made it. Los Angeles also had a strong manufacturing economy. Korean immigrants came to dominate industries like apparel manufacturing.

Danny’s family moved to America around 1990. They specifically moved to Los Angeles two years before the LA Riots/Rebellion. Beef doesn’t mention anything about the riots that decimated Koreatown and Korean owned businesses. But he is deft at painting a portrait of a Korean family struggling in America in a specific place and time. It’s not uncommon knowledge among Koreans in Los Angeles that immigrants who came later had fewer opportunities in Korea and in America.

Danny’s Korean immigrant family is different from my Korean immigrant family. The Cho families struggles are writ large and small. It’s in the loaded dialogue that is not spelled out. The Cho family didn’t reinvent themselves from being working class in South Korea to becoming middle class in America. Their American dream became an American nightmare for many reasons. How do we talk about systemic failures and barriers to accessing the American dream, when one of our own (cousin Isaac) betrayed us?

They are things that writers can write, set designers can design, stylists can style, and directors can direct. Beef has Asian American brilliance in all those aspects and in casting. When Korean American actors are hired to play Korean American characters, they bring their own lived experience to the character. This is not type casting. This is acting. When there are half a dozen Korean American characters in a series, they all get to be something different. They play characters, not stereotypes.

The way Danny speaks halting Korean inflected with English words to his parents, is a scene I saw at H-Mart this morning. The Cho’s speak English with varying degrees of Korean American sociolect and ethnolect. This is Koreatown and Korean American enclave Korean and English. These seemingly mundane details make the characters extraordinarily believable and authentically human in a story whose main arc is outlandishly unreal, where the protaganists/antagonists commit increasingly inhumane acts of revenge.

When Isaac barked out “agassi” (young, unmarried woman) at a server at a Korean restaurant, I cringed, “Low-class trash.” I was shocked. I would never speak to a server that way. David Choe knew how to be crass and flashy in English and broken Korean.

Isaac preys on his own community and hurts his own family

Beef (tv series), Korean American Representation, and Korean Koreaness Part 1

I binge watched Beef in one day. I’ve read countless reviews and commentaries. Non-Asian reviewers rave about the series without understanding or even noticing the Asian or Korean American signifiers, which are sprinkled throughout or rather embedded in the characters and their environments. Asian American pundits delight in the “If You Know, You Know” Asian American aspects with a sense “Beef is for us”. It’s not about the “white gaze”. The latest round of commentary is about the Korean American and Korean church representation.

Beef nailed the Korean American evangelical experience.


Beef also nailed Daniel Cho’s Han. Han starts with an injustice, then mingles with rage, resentment, grief, and other related feelings. Han is the collective suffering of Korean people. Daniel’s parents suffered losses in America and had to move back to Korea. Their immigrant dream was a failure. His parents have to live with his mother’s brother in Korea. They haven’t achieved financial security back in the mother land. Daniel’s parents are suffering Han. Daniel suffers Han with them. It’s not uncommon for Koreans to claim that Han is not definable. We know it when we feel it or see it.

Han and Hwa-Byung

화병, hwa-byung Anger Suppresion Syndrome, is a specifically Korean culture bound phenomonen that’s related to Han. But it’s not about cultural essentialism. Hwa-byung addresses environmental problems and may also be related to personality problems. But the problem is addressed at the individual, familial, and social levels(environment). Hwa-byung is the suppression of anger or inability to express anger as a result of unjust or unfair circumstances. 화 “hwa” means anger or fire.

화가 올라 means to get angry. More literally, a fire is growing or rising inside. This is another term that Koreans struggle to translate into English. Danny hilariously quips, “Western therapy doesn’t work on Eastern minds.” How can a Western therapist understand all of Danny’s internal and environmental layers?

There’s been much commentary about the bbq grills that Danny was trying to return before the incident with Amy, Ali Wong’s character. What hasn’t been mentioned is that suicide by burning charcoal to inhale carbon monoxide poisoning is a notable phenomon in South Korea. Accidental death from burning yeontan (large charcoal briquettes) to heat homes was also a public health hazard for decades. “This odorless and colorless gas could filter through the cracks of a damaged ondol floor and suffocate the victims while they were sleeping. Strict precautions were always taken, but gas poisoning remained a major cause of death in Korea until quite recently.” (Published in 2003). Yeontan was introduced by the Japanese in the 1920s.

Yeontan, charcoal briquettes. Once a luxury item, became fuel for poor people.

Just thirty years ago, coal cartridges were the “people’s fuel.” These days, they have been replaced by gas and oil, leaving them mostly a fading memory. But some 200,000 struggling households in South Korea still depend on them to get through the winter cold. The worse the economy, and the fiercer the chill, the more the impoverished class relies on coal cartridges to stay warm.” (Published in 2013)

화 fire is a motif for Danny. He tries to commit suicide by burning charcoal in his room. He almost sets Amy’s car on fire. His dreams go down in literal flames.

Danny Cho is a collision of Han and Hwa-Byung.

Suh Nam-Dong, one of the founders of Korean minjung liberation theology, described Han as “a feeling of unresolved resentment against injustices suffered, a sense of helplessness because of the overwhelming odds against one, a feeling of acute pain in one’s guts and bowels, making the whole body writhe and squirm, and an obstinate urge to take revenge and to right the wrong—all these combined.”