Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens EP says K-drama episode will showcase 'hot Asian masculinity'
Since Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens premiered Jan. 22, we’ve seen an array of the now-superstar's dramatized shenanigans in her early days, from getting kicked out of an Atlantic City casino to taking monetary advantage of her non-stop queefing (yes, you read that right).
But Awkwafina’s (real name Nora Lum) story doesn’t just involve herself. She wouldn’t be where she is today without the help of her family, particularly her grandma, portrayed by Orange Is the New Black’s Lori Tan Chinn.
That’s exactly what the comedy’s Wednesday episode, “Grandma & Chill,” aims to explore — the tale of grandma’s journey from China to America and how it was the start of her family’s life in New York, which you can see in EW’s exclusive teaser above.
To tell an origin story that involves getting swept away by mudslides and swimming across the ocean, executive producer Teresa Hsiao tells EW that the writers realized a perfect conduit to convey it all was through — what else —Korean drama style.
“You're mixing Asian cultures obviously, but I know at least personally, in my family, everyone watches K-dramas but they just watch it subtitled in Chinese,” Hsiao said. “That K-drama style is really fun and it hasn't really been seen before. So [grandma’s] retelling this within the format of a K-drama, and within that, then you get to do a lot of crazy things. You get to make it a little bit more dreamy and crazy with a lot of things that aren't necessarily real.”
In the episode, grandma regales Nora with anecdotes from her earlier life, which began in 1960s China right before the Cultural Revolution, as she tried to pave a path to America. And although Nora is initially annoyed at having to get off her phone, her loved one’s harrowing quest quickly captures her (and the audience’s) attention.
First, we see a hilarious title sequence featuring windswept hair, intense music, dramatic character poses, and of course, the classic “graphic design is my passion” aesthetics that every K-drama fan will clock. The writers were inspired by K-dramas like My Sassy Girl and Boys Over Flowers for this part, Hsiao says, plus they enlisted the directorial help of the Daniels (AKA the directing duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) of Swiss Army Man to bring the visuals to life.
We're quickly introduced to the main players in young grandma’s story: her younger self played by Jamie Chung, and the two men dubbed “Doc Hottie” (Glee's Harry Shum, Jr.) and “Garbage Boy” (Kim's Convenience's Simu Liu) who vie for her affections.
We won’t spoil the out-of-this-world events of the episode, but just be prepared for storylines revolving around fighting off sharks, a character getting amnesia (another classic K-drama trope), and some insane plot twists. And a bonus: you’ll see a shirtless Liu drenching himself in milk at one point.
Hsiao says the guest actors were all game to take part in the topsy-turvy shoot, which saw Shum, Jr. get fake blood thrown in his face and Stephanie Hsu, who plays grandma’s BFF Shu Shu, slop around in mud.
“It was lucky because obviously, a lot of them, just knowing Nora, they were all excited to do it,” she says. “Simu was doing this right before he was going to go to Australia to shoot [Marvel's] Shang Chi, which he's doing now. So we're super lucky to have him come on board.”
The EP also discusses why it’s important for viewers to see Shum, Jr. and Liu act as young grandma's love interests and leading men in the episode.
“Basically we wanted to have these two studs come on board and again, really showcase like, ‘Hey, Asian men are super hot and they are incredible and they never ever get a chance to show this side of them on television,’” Hsiao says. “They're usually just like the nerdy doctor or whatever. And so we really wanted to showcase this hot Asian masculinity.”
You might be suprised to hear that despite all the fictionalized elements of the K-drama-esque fable, a lot of the details were pieced from peoples’ true stories. Shu Shu’s background, for example, was based on one woman’s real experience leaving China.
“We actually talked to a woman who my mom introduced me to. This woman who was kind enough to spend a couple hours with us; she Skyped with the room,” Hsiao tells EW. “She just told us her story of when she was in high school, and it was the Cultural Revolution ... She was great and told us her story of how she was sent to a farm and then all the stuff about the mudslide, how she was plucked away.”
Hsiao continues, adding “She had been swept away to another mudslide when she was working on a farm and then eventually she made it out. I mean, we embellished a little bit now -- she didn't swim across a channel and kill a bunch of sharks.”
Other historically accurate tidbits came from writer Kyle Lau’s own family, where one of his relatives actually “swum across the canal or river to Hong Kong,” and the scene where young grandma’s parents were forced to smash their plates and other valuables really happened to numerous families in China who lived during that era. And Hsiao says, as depicted in the episode, Awkwafina’s real-life grandma worked at a hospital when she came to the U.S. and her best friends were other immigrants from all over the world. Unfortunately, though, there was no Garbage Boy in real life.
Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens airs Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.
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