What would happen if you gave into your absolute worst impulses after someone almost backed their car into yours or blared their horn at you for an obnoxiously long time?
In A24 and Netflix’s new revenge drama Beef, Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) and Amy Lau (Ali Wong) do exactly that. Over the course of ten outrageously dark and funny episodes, the drama and stakes ramp higher and higher as these two deeply bitter and broken characters rip and tear at each other, causing their lives to unravel spectacularly.
Danny is a second-generation immigrant with a failing business as a contractor. Trying to scrape together enough money to help his parents retire and provide for his younger brother Paul (Young Mazino), Danny is about to hit rock bottom when the anonymous parking lot encounter sparks a latent rage in him that grows into a fiery drive for revenge that also transforms his outlook on life.
Living the seemingly opposite existence, Amy is a successful houseplant entrepreneur with handsome husband George (Joseph Lee), adorable young daughter June (Remy Holt), and a stunning house in Calabasas. The only thing standing in the way of a cushy business deal for her are the whims of Jordan (Maria Bello), a difficult-to-sway and completely amoral billionaire. Fiercely protective of everything she has worked for while also feeling trapped by her perfect life, Amy retaliates against Danny in an effort to regain a semblance of control.
The two become locked in a series of escalating actions that reveal the deeper trauma and familial manipulations at play in each other’s lives — showing that perhaps the two are more similar than it would appear at first. Yeun and Wong give committed, devilish, and raw performances that are complemented by an outlandish and fully fleshed out story by creator Lee Sung Jin. The drama is brilliantly calibrated with plot twists and emotional crescendos that build in deeply entertaining and cathartic ways.
It’s also quite fun to see such an incredible cast of East Asians-behaving-badly that doesn’t limit itself to one “kind” of East Asian and their experiences. Wong and Lee play a Chinese-Vietnamese-American and Japanese-American couple (actor Lee is actually Korean-American). While most of their relationship conflicts stem more from personality differences than cultural ones, they still experience moments of prejudice and discrimination from other people who make assumptions about their backgrounds.
For example, white characters ask Amy if she has been to China or try to speak Japanese to her. Amy gets a little side-eye from a Korean character when her husband is revealed to be Japanese. Another character insists on using George’s Japanese name, “Joji,” although his family members usually call him “George.” These are all blink-and-you’ll-miss-them scenes that East Asian audiences (especially second-generation immigrants) will likely be able to pick up on, understanding implicitly how Beef skewers these moments for a joke.
Yeun plays a Korean-American who tends to be a little more traditional. Danny thinks that growing a hands-on business and finding a Korean wife are what will make him happy, while his younger brother shrugs off those ambitions. Set apart by a few years that somehow feel much longer, the brothers reckon with a major generational divide. Paul dabbles in cryptocurrency and online dating instead of trying to achieve the goals set by his older family members, and that tension is quite relatable for many families.
Throwing a chaotic wrench into the Cho brothers’ plans is their criminal cousin, Isaac (David Choe). Loud, abrasive, but clever, Isaac outmaneuvers Danny again and again with his alpha-male bravado and his lucrative but dangerous hustling. Choe is an absolute scene-stealer who injects an extra dose of no-filter anarchy into every moment he is on screen.
Beef offers a veritable buffet of well-seasoned performances and a deliciously dark plot that is a satisfying standout among Netflix’s fare.
Beef will be streaming on Netflix starting April 6.