Kim’s Convenience stars Simu Liu, Andrew Phung share epic bromance

Season 5 of award-winning CBC comedy brings more of their BFF high jinks

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If two guys are bros, and they don’t have a special handshake to celebrate their bromance, are they really bros to begin with? Luckily, Kim’s Convenience actors Simu Liu and Andrew Phung have an epic one. They crafted it while filming the first season of the CBC comedy, in which they play best friends Jung and Kimchee, respectively.

“All of our favourite basketball players had these amazing, intricate handshakes with each other so we made one up ourselves. Initially I think the producers loved it and then they realized it took way too long to do,” says Liu.

“The only time the handshake has been seen in its entirety is in the first season, and since then we’ve only been able to do shortened versions of it. But I’m confident that the full Jung-Kimchee handshake will find its way back to the show somehow. It is a sight to behold.”

Liu and Phung continued their bromance as Kim’s Convenience grew from its beginnings as an adaptation of Ins Choi’s 2011 play into a Canadian Screen Award-winning show with a Netflix-sized global audience. The series, about a Korean-Canadian family that runs a Toronto convenience store, returns for its fifth season Tuesday on CBC and CBC Gem.

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“We spent a lot of time with each other in the summers of those first three seasons,” says Phung. “I remember going to see X-Men and Simu saying, ‘Man, I’m going to be a superhero one day!’”

Well, that happened.

During the break between season 3 and 4, Marvel announced at San Diego’s Comic-Con that Liu would star as its first Chinese superhero, Shang-Chi, in the film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It’s scheduled for release on July 9.

“I was just so happy and couldn’t help but tell the cast, and Andrew was one of the first people I told. He was so happy for me. I know I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Kim’s Convenience,” says Liu.

“People of colour rarely get those opportunities — not just to be on set for a day or couple of days, but to take charge of a main character and his arc and growth. … When I got the news I told everyone in the cast and we hugged and just basked in the news together. And we also got a bit of that with The Mandalorian.”

Indeed. Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, who plays Jung’s father Appa on Kim’s Convenience, appeared as an X-wing fighter pilot in the second season of Star Wars series The Mandalorian, streaming on Disney+.

“I think he did a much better job than I did in keeping things relatively secretive, but when it happened, I couldn’t have been happier for him because I know how big of a Star Wars fan he is,” says Liu. “This dude lives and breathes Star Wars. He’s got a basement full of costumes and helmets. This dude could’ve shown up to his fitting in a movie-accurate costume already.”

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It’s no wonder the Kim’s Convenience cast — and the show itself — is gaining attention beyond Canada. Streaming on Netflix has introduced the show to a global audience, and it’s been covered in publications such as The New Yorker, The Guardian, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly.

“When I was in Australia shooting (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings), I was recognized pretty much any time I left the house,” Liu says. “And it wasn’t because of Marvel — nobody has seen footage from the movie yet. They didn’t say, ‘That’s the guy from Marvel.’ They said, ‘That’s the guy from Kim’s Convenience.’”

As for Phung, fans have given him all kinds of gifts paying tribute to his character Kimchee. There’s the custom-sculpted Kimchee action figure with accessories, the knitted Kimchee doll, the slab of wood with sneakers etched into it. That last gift is a reference to Kimchee’s — and Phung’s — love of ever-so-fly athletic footwear.

As he speaks via Zoom, Phung sits in front of a wall of sneakers, each pair encased in its own compartment and with plenty of Nike swooshes. It’s a veritable sneaker rainbow: Some are orange, some baby blue. Some are gold, some yellow, and black and white, too.

“In Toronto I have, like, 300 and in Calgary there’s like another 100. And that informs my character on the show,” says Phung. He’s even given Liu a pair of customized Air Jordan 4 sneakers — you know, as a gallant bromantic gesture.

“When I was screentesting with all the potential Kimchees for Kim’s Convenience, there was just something about Andrew and I understood that we were going to be friends. In that audition Andrew went way off script and it ended up with us chasing each other around the audition room,” says Liu, laughing.

“When I came back from (filming the Marvel movie in) Australia, I shot Kim’s Convenience pretty much right away after doing two weeks in quarantine. It had been over a year, but it was like no time had passed. It was so familiar and cathartic to come home and play with friends again.”

Kim’s Convenience returns for season 5 on Tuesday, Jan. 19, on CBC/CBC Gem

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