Korean series have seen a giant boost in the past few years, whether it’s the likes of Squid Game topping the Netflix charts. Becoming one of the platform’s most successful series, to the likes of Apple TV and Disney+ recently investing in K-dramas and series/films starring Korean actors and directors. Korean-directed series have become a staple of streaming services, with Lee Sung Jin’s latest masterpiece ‘Beef’ becoming the latest chart-topping drama to feature on the service.
Starring Steven Yeun, famous for his role as Glenn in the popular 2010 Television series The Walking Dead. He has recently made a name for himself acting in Korean-directed films, ‘Okja,’ ‘Burning’ and ‘Minari,’ with each gaining success in Asia. Becoming one of Korea’s most successful and recognisable Korean actors in Hollywood. Beef features a wide range of Asian actors, such as Ali Wong, Joseph Lee and Young Mazino, to name a few.
The series begins with a road rage incident. Where after being embarrassed inside a supermarket trying to return to a barbeque, the financially burdened Danny (played by Steven Yeun) pulls out of a parking spot before being cut off and nearly hitting a white SUV. Driven by the second main character Amy (played by Ali Wong). A mega businesswoman looking to be fulfilled and become rich to escape from her childhood experiences and trauma. She married a second-generation Japanese sculptor George (played by Joseph Lee), looking to make a name for himself living in his father’s shadow.
The two get in a car accident, with Ali flipping off Danny before Danny gets angry, chasing her throughout the city. But the incident has a deeper meaning. Danny thought the driver was a white man purposely pulling out on a Korean man reacting that way because he is Asian. Showing the impact that race has played in Danny’s life and the start of real-world issues pointed out by director Lee Sung Jin.
Beef perfectly displays the struggle of parenting that Asian children and children-in-law go through. Whether it’s Danny with the pressure of wanting to be the perfect Asian child living up to the expectations of retiring his parents, returning them to the US whilst trying to guide his youngest brother and becoming a father figure in his life. Or Ali Wong the complete opposite, a millionaire trying to become eternally rich and live the opposite to her parents in contrast to her husband, who grew up rich. She can never win the approval of her mother-in-law. Who sees the cracks in her and her husband’s relationship.
The series has a lot of deep messages, from ongoing issues between parents inherited from a cheated marriage. Where the parents stayed together, knowing what happened because that’s the way. This is inherited and passed into the next relationship.
Danny finds a sense in Church as he goes back to his childhood. A time when his parents were living in the US. He felt his brother loved him, and he didn’t feel the weight of the world on his shoulders.
After accidentally kidnapping Amy’s daughter, the director reinforces the perspective of Danny’s good boy image after several episodes of questioning his character through his behaviour and actions. Showing that he is indeed a good guy looking to do the right thing he can never do. However, Amy’s situation is the complete opposite. George calls the police after promising he wouldn’t, showing the broken nature of their relationship and the lack of trust between him and Amy.
Paul is then thought to be shot by the police after no warning, after being told that Danny ripped up his university administration offer years prior. The police shot speaks to the racial issues with policing in America whilst bringing to fear Danny’s worst nightmare, that he may actually be alone.
Ali and Danny would end the series with another accident. And both driving off a cliff, they would continue to argue. With Ali now wielding a gun, they would continue to show the power dynamic of Danny pushing through life but always still powerless. And Ali, who on the surface looks strong with a gun but with her ankle injured and unable to move, is still weak and struggling to get by, a metaphor for their lives.
The two finally come to terms with each other at the end. Changing bodies and telling their stories through each other’s eyes, they come to terms with how similar they are. Amy says in Danny’s voice, “I see your life, You poor thing. All you wanted was to not be alone.” And Danny responded in Amy’s voice, “You don’t have to be ashamed, it’s okay. I see it all. You don’t have to hide.” Showing how far their relationship has come since they first met.
Seeing success in topping the Netflix Top 10 programme chart, the show is reported to have a second season with more details set to be released.
Check out the trailer to ‘Beef’ below.