“Beef” – TV series: How a Case of Road Rage Spirals
In the new series Beef, what starts off as a small case of road rage spirals into a full-blown cyclone of revenge. This isn’t just an ordinary beef about two characters – played by Steven Yeun and Ali Wong – taking out their frustrations and anger on each other. The ten-episode show airing on Netflix follows each of them as that incident sparks an all-consuming dangerous obsession to ruin each other’s lives.
Given the challenging times in which we are living, it’s not far-fetched to imagine this scenario. Danny Cho (Yeun) is a failing contractor down on his luck and saddled with a younger brother (Young Mazino) to care for and the pressure to make money to bring his aging parents to the United States. Amy Lau (Wong) is a successful small-business owner who loves her husband (Joseph Lee) and child but is deeply unhappy and shows it with her often bitchy behavior. Each has already had a very bad day when their encounter in a parking lot triggers Danny to chase Amy’s car across neighborhood lawns and through red lights until she loses him. But that’s just the beginning, as Danny tracks down her identity, strikes a retaliatory blow and a feud ensues.
Creator and showrunner Lee Sung Jin told Variety recently that his new show was about much more than pushing diversity on-screen. “I’m very proud of all that’s happening in Asian American culture today,” Jin said. “But I think especially as a writer, you’re always wanting to lead with character first and yes, these characters happen to be Asian American, but there’s so much more to them than just that. Just the fact that they’re Asian American says a lot on the posters, so allowing the show and the world and the characters to overtake that is something that happened organically more than anything else.”
Yeun told NPR in an interview, “All the best beefs are when people are equally measured, right? Tupac and Biggie don’t beef unless they’re Tupac and Biggie. We tried to capture that best beef. I think Danny and Amy are rivals who respect each other and there’s a connection underneath the beef connection, if you know what I mean.”
Yeun, best known for the hit series The Walking Dead and the Oscar-nominated film Minari, also talked about how accessing that rage on set took a personal toll. “Playing Danny was, at times, asking me to revisit a part of myself that when I was younger, I didn’t have a full handle over,” he explains to NPR. “I got tired being that angry for so long. Every day, I’d show up on set and be like, ‘Danny’s doing what today?’ And I’m asking myself, ‘How do I justify this? How do I not hate Danny? How do I love Danny? How do I never bail on Danny?’ Because Danny is a side of all of us and I have to figure out how do I never bail on him so that the audience will never bail.”
Wong – known for her Netflix stand-up specials such as Baby Cobra, Hard Knock Wife, and Don Wong as well as the film Always Be My Maybe and as a writer on the sitcom Fresh Off the Boat – admits she was eager to step out of her comfort zone for her first series role when Jin approached her with the pitch. “I was really blown away when I heard it,” she told a Zoom press conference. “It sounded scary but really exciting and I thought, ‘I think I can do it!’”
Wong also recalls her own experience with road rage as a victim when she was 16. “This guy was drunk, and I don’t know why he was angry at me all of a sudden, but he was so angry that he pulled up on the driver’s side in the lane that was going opposite from the traffic,” she reveals in the Zoom. “He looked me in the eye, sitting in his truck, and he was screaming all sorts of expletives at me. All I could focus on was losing him and I remember feeling really frightened.”
Given the violence both unleash on each other, it’s a good thing neither Wong nor Yeun are method actors, and the pair say they have remained close friends even after the shoot wrapped. “I didn’t know his process in the beginning, so I thought since we’re playing enemies, in between the takes or during lunch, is he going to throw a donut at my head or go like this,” she adds, pretending to grimace. “We also set a precedent on set that we always connect in between takes because, really, it’s not about us being enemies. It’s really about these two people having a connection.”