ali wong and steven yeun in beef

Chinese Audiences Have Zero Beef With Netflix’s Latest Hit ‘Beef’

‘Beef,’ the new Netflix and A24 miniseries starring Ali Wong and Steven Yeun, explores Asian American rage and is a niche hit in China

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3:54 AM HKT, Thu April 13, 2023 2 mins read

In the week since it debuted on Netflix, Beef, a TV miniseries starring Ali Wong and Steven Yeun, has received rave reviews from Chinese audiences. It has an impressive 8.9/10 on Douban, a Chinese review aggregator similar to Rotten Tomatoes.

Created by Lee Sung Jin, who also produced Amazon’s first adult animated series Undone, the Netflix program explores the all-consuming anger that develops between Danny Cho (Yeun), a hapless contractor, and Amy Lau (Wong), a wealthy business owner with marriage problems, after they nearly hit each other while driving out of a parking lot.

In addition to Yeun and Wong, iconic Asian American artist David Choe also appears in a supporting role in the series.

A24, the entertainment company behind the Oscar-winning film Everything Everywhere All At Once, produced Beef, which has been translated into Chinese as ‘Existential Rage’ (怒呛人生).

Beef lives up to both titles as a study of fury, emotional repression, and the myth of meritocracy. Part psychological thriller, part comedy, the show turns a mundane incident into a cathartic, constantly escalating revenge plot that ultimately changes both antiheroes’ lives.

Though Netflix is unavailable in China, Beef has found a loving — if relatively niche — audience in the country. More than half of the nearly 8,000 reviewers on Douban have given the show a five-star rating.

the birds don't sing, they screech in pain title card from netflix's beef

The title card of the first episode of Beef features a quote taken from German director Werner Herzog’s documentary Burden of Dreams

On Douban, these fans post everything from analyses of each episode’s title — taken from the works of Sylvia Plath, Werner Herzog, Franz Kafka, and Simone de Beauvoir, among others — to discussions of their own struggles with anxiety and upper-middle-class striving.

Others have compared it directly to A24’s Everything Everywhere All At Once. One person wrote, “Although my opinion of Everything Everywhere All At Once was not as good as other netizens’, I’m impressed by [A24’s] imaginative and unconstrained style and their excavation and analysis of the way East Asians approach intimacy.”

Beef has also transcended its initial premise as a dark comedy, drawing viewers in with a heavier emotional undercurrent than many expected upfront. In the third episode, for example, Danny breaks down in tears in church, overwhelmed by nostalgia and a sense of community.

“The show was beyond my expectations,” a Douban reviewer wrote. “It turned out to be a large-scale exploration of thousands of psychological traumas experienced by second-generation immigrants [...] It seems that, for us East Asian children, even if we flee to the ends of the Earth, we can’t escape our tough relationships with familial affection.”

Besides Beef’s emotional depth, viewers have also praised its production quality. Some have even called it the “Asian White Lotus,” a reference to the celebrated HBO drama about wealthy vacationers.

a chinese poster for beef the netflix show

A Chinese poster for Beef. Image via IMDb

One person wrote, “[Beef was] so great. I thought Netflix had long since become an assembly line factory for pseudo-documentary reality shows. Finding the right production house means they can actually produce a TV series that looks like [it was directed by] Guy Ritchie.”

Another applauded, “Beef impressively portrays Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese Americans in vivid and distinct ways.”

Beef is not the only foreign television show to find acclaim in China recently. Korean drama The Glory Part 2 was an even bigger hit when it was released last month.

Cover image via IMDb

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