adidas techfit powerweb ‘Kat Loves LA’ explores diversity of Asian American identity
The down on her luck girl with big aspirations who just needs to ease up a bit in order to live out her dreams and get the guy. The misunderstood player with a soft heart really deep down who can charm anyone, except of course, the one person who matters.
It’s easy to watch a singular romantic comedy and think that after meeting these characters once, there’s little to nothing left as far as depth and enigma are concerned. The trained rom com fan, though, knows that a true gem will offer up versions of these characters who can stand on their own. It can unearth new crevices of these very same tropes to find something more about the girl than the fact that she looks for love in all the wrong places, something more about the boy than the fact that he seems to be allergic to genuine human connection.
Even following these (quite forgiving) guidelines, “Kat Loves LA” a nine part web series created, written, produced and edited by UC Berkeley alumna Paget Kagy, who also plays the titular Kat is decidedly not a gem of a rom com. In fact, it’s hard to say that there’s anything interesting or groundbreaking about it at all. The show revolves around Kat’s misadventures in love and acting as a Korean woman in Los Angeles. Along the way, she meets Andrew (Matthew Um), a fellow Korean actor whom she first awkwardly tries to date and then, after multiple run ins, to befriend. It’s a stock rom com story to a T, and with stock rom com leads to boot.
For all their predictability, Kat and Andrew are actually the most interesting, well written characters in the show. Between a well intentioned friend with poor judgment, an obnoxious gay best friend and an immigrant mother desperate to find a suitable match for her daughter, each of the rest of the characters fits, somehow, even more cleanly into already written and played out archetypes than either Kat or Andrew. The series offers no alternate focal point as a much needed reprieve or escape route from Kat and Andrew’s budding relationship.
Really the only thing separating “Kat Loves LA” from any other run of the mill romantic comedy is the fact that its central characters are Korean. In what could be interpreted as a last resort tactic to rely on minority representation in order to differentiate an otherwise mediocre work, the web series’ exploration of Asian American identities emerges with a fresh insight on intraracial dynamics.
One of the series’ central points of tension stems from the fact that Kat and Andrew express their Korean identities in starkly different ways. Kat, on one hand, speaks fluent Korean, keeps up with traditional practices and is well versed in Korean cuisine. Yet Andrew points out that she is “whitewashed” because she only dates white men.
Andrew, on the other hand, embodies his Koreanness simply by being Korean. As a Midwesterner with white adoptive parents, he has never been in contact with his Korean birth family nor with any significant Korean community within the United States. Needless to say, Kat pins his disconnect from her understanding of what it means to be Korean, criticizing his aspirational whiteness.
As the show progresses, both characters open themselves to one another’s judgements of their perceived aspirations to whiteness. Kat somewhat acknowledges her serial dating of white men. Andrew visits Koreatown and various Korean restaurants with Kat. Notably, both Kat and Andrew become equally willing over time to open themselves to the other’s criticism.
Neither Kat’s embodiment of a Korean American identity deeply rooted in tradition nor Andrew’s embodiment of a Korean American identity based solely in blood is implied to be a more correct understanding of being Korean. The tension between Kat and Andrew is never resolved loudly and formally through a declaration of right or wrong, but rather quietly and gently as it flows into a mutual understanding and into new questions of what it means to be Asian American.
After eight episodes already released on the show’s YouTube channel, there are still a lot of questions left to be answered in the yet to be aired season finale the most crucial, of course, being of what will happen between Kat and Andrew. It’s tempting to say that the show will end along the same, generic, rom com trajectory that it has been following. And yet, it’s hard not to hold out hope that at least some of the insight that Kagy has so keenly applied to her exploration of the Korean American identity will find its way into her exploration of the rom com format as well.