How would a fraught, highly-charged moment of road rage continue to linger and fester in two of the most obsessive and self-destructive characters you’ll ever meet?
Viewers are confronted with this question right from the opening moments of “Beef,” putting us squarely in the perspective of Yeun’s Danny Cho and immediately setting the tone for the steadily boiling cauldron of frustrations to come. Weighed down by his perception that there’s always something just waiting in the wings to ruin every one of his plans, Danny is drowning in dire financial straits (largely of his own making) and at the end of his rope. By pure chance, the struggling handyman finds the perfect target for his frustrations when he accidentally backs into the path of an oncoming SUV outside a department store … and is promptly met by the other irate driver’s obnoxious, prolonged honking and a middle finger out the window, for good measure.
If Yeun has never seemed quite as desperate, combustible, and impotently angry as he is here, then Wong is practically a revelation for fans who may only know her from various stand-up comedy specials or the Netflix rom-com “Always Be My Maybe.” After the startlingly tense (yet dryly funny) car chase that follows, the deceptively diminutive Wong takes over the proceedings through sheer strength of charisma. In no time at all, she almost effortlessly convinces us that Amy Lau, a well-off businesswoman looking to close a wildly lucrative deal to sell off her business, could be capable of imploding just as violently as Danny.
Despite her picturesque life, the fractures are made readily apparent. On top of all the micro-aggressions that women of color (especially of Asian descent) are all too familiar with, she must deal with her well-meaning but inattentive husband George (Joseph Lee), headstrong young daughter June (Remy Holt), her overbearing mother-in-law Fumi (Patti Yasutake, who sinks her teeth into what could’ve been a stereotype of a role), and a precarious business deal with the unbearable and fabulously wealthy Jordan Forster (Maria Bello) that could fall apart at the slightest misstep.
And every step of the way, “Beef” turns the screws on Danny and Amy, juxtaposing their parallel journeys with one another and pushing them further to the brink.