BEEF Review: Roiling Road Rage

Steven Yuen and Ali Wong star in the brilliant #Netflix series, created by Lee Sung Jin.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
BEEF Review: Roiling Road Rage

We all go a little mad sometimes.

The limited series debuts Thursday, April 6, globally on Netflix. I've seen all ten episodes.

Brilliantly written, creatively directed, and precisely enacted, Beef captures the state of intense pressure that afflicts everyone, and carries it forward to an entirely convincing conclusion.

Fuming as he tries to exit a home improvement story, Danny Cho (Steven Yuen) crosses swords with another vehicle. His anger boils over, and just like that, he jump-starts a crazed chase in pursuit of the other vehicle, careening through nearby neighborhoods at breakneck speed, determined to ... do something, although what, exactly, is not on his mind, it's that he needs to do something about the other driver.

That incident lights the fuse, but it's only the beginning.

Throughout the U.S., so-called "road rage" incidents have sometimes resulted in gunshots or even deaths, though more often it's a matter of incensed emotions, angry words, and rude gestures. Creator Lee Sung Jin, whose past credits include the brilliant Undone, as well as the consistently amusing Silicon Valley and Dave, raises the stakes continually, imagining what might happen if common sense did not prevail, if tempers did not cool down, if logic was thrown out the door in favor of raw, seething rage.

Danny Cho is a construction contractor in Southern California, struggling to make his fledgling building a success. He and his younger brother Paul (Young Mazino) emigrated from Korea in pursuit of the immigrant's dream, though lately it appears that only Danny holds those conventional ideals sacred, desiring to build a home for his parents so they too can come to America.

Paul, on the other hand, is determined to make it on his own pursuing his dream, which puts him at odds with his brother, even as he makes a token effort to support him. Danny, then, turns to their cousin Isaac (David Choe), who has always been open about his larcenous tendencies, but to a degree that catches Danny off-guard.

As things develop, Danny nurses his new grudge against the mysterious driver and object of his road rage, who he discovers is Amy Lau (Ali Wong). In stark contrast to his grimy, scrabbling existence, she too is a business owner. The difference is that she is a successful business owner, having built her company to the point that she is on the verge of a possible sale to a world-class company, owned by Jordan (Maria Bello).

Again in contrast to Danny's lonely life, Amy is happily (?) married to her extremely supportive husband, George Nakai (Joseph Lee), and they are raising a cute young daughter June (Remy Holt) together. She has a supportive best friend, Naomi (Ashley Park). She has achieved the financial success that Danny aspires to gain, yet she is not, fundamentally, happy; her anxiety and anger issues continue to roil, just like Danny.

Throughout the ten episodes, the lives of Danny and Amy continue to intersect and to comment on the other, in contrast and in comparison, as their lives, and those of their loved ones, are explored and examined. The writing and directing creates a composite portrait of people who are striving for success, which remains elusive, and happiness, which remains an undefined fantasy of someone else who is not even in the picture.

Steven Yuen and Ali Wong give performances that dovetail in the brilliant nuances they bring to their characters. They are easily recognizable and compulsively watchable, even when they are occasionally repulsive. They are the type of people who, we are told, we should want to be, in order to achieve the American dream, even if it becomes a nightmare we cannot escape.

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Ali WongLee Sung JinNetflixSteven YuenUS

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