Appreciation for Erwin Kim
Updated: Apr 21
In 2016, the coming-of-age comedy, The Edge Of Seventeen, filled the hearts of lost teens across the nation. The film follows a 'seventeen' year old girl named Nadine, played by Hailee Steinfeld, who is burdened by the loss of her dad and fails to understand and accept herself and therefore those around her. One of the misunderstood characters who cross her path is Korean-American teen, Erwin Kim, who is played by Chinese-Canadian actor Hayden Chun Hay Szeto. Erwin approaches Nadine with a crush, but instead of accepting his feelings, Nadine 'crushes' them. While Erwin is a fictional character, (and we don't need more of them to fall in love with) he is a boy that deserves more love and appreciation for his efforts-- and not just from Nadine. He's a talented guy with a quirky, sometimes awkward, personality. He is bold in expressing his feelings, yet respectful and understanding; even when he fails to make a move on the ferris wheel, he makes up for it by stopping the entire ride to end Nadine’s (and his) embarrassment. Throughout the film, Nadine discovers more about herself and Erwin, learning that he is a very talented cartoonist and animator. The film ends with Nadine attending her school’s film festival, which features Erwins animated short that happens to be based on Nadine’s rejection.
Erwin Kim is an underrated breakthrough character for Asian representation, being a forerunner for male, Asian love interests. Additionally, Erwin’s character could also stand as a metaphor for how Asian actors have been overlooked and not taken seriously in Hollywood. Throughout the film, Nadine only sees Erwin as the “Korean guy from Chem Class” (which was how Erwin was originally introduced in the 2011 draft of the script) and makes many degrading, stereotypical comments at him.
After interacting with Erwin for the first time, Nadine insists to her best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), that she “would freaking love him” and that he’s adorable. Krista then asks, “So are you going to hook up with him?” To clear up any confusion, Nadine immediately clarifies, “No not like that, like pathetic adorable. Like, I want to carry him around in a baby bjorn.” Later in the film, after Erwin apologizes for his failed attempt to kiss Nadine on the ferris wheel, she explains how she isn’t ready and that she’s been going through a lot lately. Being the understanding guy he is, Erwin reassures her and apologizes again. We then finally hear Nadine acknowledge Erwin’s kind heart by saying, “You’re a really great guy Erwin.” However, the compliment is completely killed when she starts to unpack what she meant: “I look at you and I just see this really, really, really old man…I just, I see this very kind, very gentle, very wise, old man. In a convalescent home, in a wheelchair.” All of these comments from Nadine display how she does not take Erwin romantically or seriously as an individual, similar to how Hollywood hadn’t taken male, Asian love interests seriously till the rise of Henry Golding in Crazy Rich Asians. But just like Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick and Jimmy Oh Yang in Love Hard, even after rejection Erwin pulls through and proves to both Nadine and the audience that he deserves better. However, unlike the alien in his short film, Erwin gives Nadine a second chance.
Erwin’s development in the film is a true victory, shedding light on the potential of Asian love interests. However, Erwin’s story didn’t always end with a complete win. In addition to just being the ‘Korean guy from Chem,’ in the 2011 version of the script, titled “Besties,” Erwin never achieves the high ground, but is resolved as a mere afterthought. At the beginning of this version, Nadine confronts Erwin’s crush head-on, telling him “I don't really see you like that. Like at all.” Even with this automatic rejection, Erwin continues to be a good friend to Nadine by listening to her never-ending rants, letting her copy his homework, and even allowing her to use her stress as an excuse for why their relationship is one-sided– framing Erwin with the Hollywood stereotype that portrays Asian men as docile push-overs.
Still pursuing his crush, in addition to a kiss on the ferris wheel, Erwin also shoots his shot by asking Nadine to prom. With their primary meeting place being in chemistry class, Erwin presents his promposal by arranging his hairs on a microscope slide to spell out “WILL YOU PLEASE GO TO PROM WITH ME?” And as you might have guessed, Nadine says no. As a result, Erwin is crushed and later calls Nadine out on how selfish she’s been acting. Erwin and Nadine’s arc in this version of The Edge Of Seventeen ends with Nadine decorating Mrs. Kim’s van as an apology and reversing her answer to his promposal.
The 2011 Erwin Kim is patronized by Nadine in the end and feels more like a pity date than an actual realization of Erwin’s awesomeness. The “Besties” version of Erwin’s character is more dependent on Nadine’s realization and appreciation for him, while the final 2016 film allows Erwin to make that realization for himself. This rewrite is huge and is part of what makes Erwin’s character so monumental: His ability to move on independently and even point out how he was hurt, not only to Nadine but to a whole film festival audience.