What’s a nice Korean Canadian girl from Toronto doing in a wrestling ring? While that may be on some people’s minds as they watch Gail Kim‘s match against Jessie Kresa tonight on Spike TV. The Total Non-stop Action (TNA) Wrestling champion sat down with Schema to discuss her wrestling career, Korean Canadian identity, and thoughts on gender and race in the WWE.
WWE Raw, live on Monday, June 30, 2003. For wrestling fans, it started off as a typical Monday night show: a showcase of bad actors and steroid junkies. Wrestling follows a script that reads the same way each week. But then—something unexpected: Gail Kim stepped into the ring.
“The young Asian Canadian from Toronto, Gail Kim, making her way to the ring. Her first appearance live here on RAW,” announced Raw commentator Jim Ross.
Kim did more than walk into a ring that night‐she also stepped into uncharted territory. As a Canadian wrestler of Korean descent, she was a rare sight for Raw wrestling fans.
On a typical Monday night show, a title doesn’t change hands to a rookie wrestler in her debut, but things didn’t go regularly in this elimination-style match for the Women’s Championship. The incident occurred when current champion Jazz was injured early in the match and had to be carried out by officials. This meant that what WWE writers had written probably was not going to happen. Instead, on this Monday night, fans received the unexpected moment they were watching for. As a wrestling fan, I remember fondly Kim’s first WWE performance and win. It’s a scene that I reminisce on favourably. Her title win was a refreshing change in a complicated and backwards industry. Whether it was planned or accidental, that match made Raw memorable during a time when it was starting to lose its appeal and stars.
How did you feel when you became the inaugural TNA Knockout Champion and the first woman to ever win both the WWE and TNA Championships? Were you surprised by your success in the industry?
It actually wasn’t fast. To reach that point took at least six years of wrestling. I’m glad everything happened the way it did. No regrets. I believe everything happens for a reason in your lifetime—good or bad—they are all learning experiences.
When did you know you wanted to become a professional wrestler? What advice do you have for aspiring wrestlers and entertainers?
I knew when I was 23. I knew when I was so hooked on watching wrestling and I saw the likes of Trish Stratus, Victoria, Molly, Jazz, etc.—what they now call the Golden Era of women’s wrestling. I watched them and thought, “Hey! I can do that!” I also thought, “There are no Asian women. I can be that person.”
Where do you see yourself in the entertainment industry in the next five to 10 years?
I’m not sure. I’ve been lucky enough to be doing this for as long as I have. I have a television project in the works right now but I’m the type that I don’t talk about it ’till it’s actually done. Hopefully things go well and I can reach that ultimate goal of having my fitness line. That’s what I dream about every day.
Being of Asian descent, a Canadian citizen by birth, and someone that has spent a large part of their life working in the United States, you have a very diverse background. Can you tell me about your identity and which culture you relate to the most?
I definitely always describe myself as Korean Canadian. I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada so that’s mostly what I knew growing up socially, but my parents spoke to me in Korean mostly and raised my sister and I in a traditional Korean household. I can honestly say [that] I relate to both cultures. I definitely feel like I want to explore and learn [about] my Korean heritage a lot more.
On that note, you’ve done photo shoots and promotions in Korea. Do you feel a strong connection to your Korean background, and do you think your ethnicity has contributed to your popularity? Have you thought about participating in Korea’s booming media industry?
I do feel a strong connection. I always have and that’s probably because of my parents. I think they did a great job raising us in Canada but still exposing us to the Korean culture. I don’t know about it contributing to popularity, but I can definitely say I feel as if it makes me different in a good way. It differentiates me from everyone else, and I love that. I do know that I get a lot of positive support from fans of ethnic backgrounds and Asians who say that they are proud of me and what I’ve accomplished, and that definitely makes me proud and grateful for the position I’m in. I definitely have always wanted to participate in Korea’s media industry! I always have. I guess I’ve been sidetracked for the past 10 years with my wrestling schedule, so it’s been definitely difficult for me to pursue. Ultimately, I would love to work there one day and my goal would be to put out a fitness-wear line there one day.
Since you’re on the road so often, when you visit your hometown of Toronto, Ontario, what are some of the changes you’ve noticed over the past couple of decades that most surprise you? What do you miss most about home when you’re on the road?
Every time I go home, I notice it’s becoming more and more multicultural, and the traffic gets worse lol. I plan all my days visiting around traffic. I always knew Toronto so well but last time I drove there, there were new streets, buildings … it’s just developing so quickly! It’s overwhelming sometimes. I miss my family and friends most of all. Definitely don’t miss the winters though!
On TSN’s Off The Record, it’s been discussed how Canadian fans tend to cheer for who they want, not who the booker’s want. Have you noticed a difference between your American and Canadian fans?
I really don’t, but I really haven’t been in front of the Canadian fans as often as I would like. I haven’t been there in a while it seems. All I can tell you is that our Canadian fans rock!
As one of the few Asian wrestlers from North America that’s on television every week, do you feel you have a responsibility to your audience? Are there any Asians you look up to in the North American entertainment industry, or that have inspired you?
I definitely feel as though I’m representing Asians everywhere, and not just Asian, but females—especially in a business that is so male dominated. I always said [that] I don’t want to be the stereotype of what an Asian is portrayed [as], and so far, I feel like I’ve been happy with the way things have gone. I really admire people like Maggie Q and Grace Park. They are two women in the entertainment industry who are not only beautiful, but play strong women on television. I love the whole femme fatale role Maggie plays, and I get inspiration from her for my character in wrestling. The only difference is that I play a villain right now. I also love Margaret Cho. She’s outspoken, funny and I think she says what’s on her mind and I love that. Kimora Lee Simmons comes to mind too. She started in modeling and runs an empire now while being a mom to three kids. That’s an amazing woman right there!
Professional wrestling tends to be very male dominated. Are there any specific female wrestlers you look up to?
I always looked up to Molly Holly who is no longer wrestling. She gave me my break in this business. The thing I admire most about her is not only her talent but the fact that she is genuinely so nice and kind hearted. A great person to know.
Wrestling has been known to push characters that are sometimes based on stereotypes and racial caricatures (Iron Sheik, Muhammad Hassan, Cryme Tyme, Jimmy Wang Chang, La Resistance). Were you ever given a role where you felt you were being stereotyped, fetishized, or made to feel uncomfortable? How did you deal with it?
I don’t think I can remember a time feeling uncomfortable because I was never forced to play the stereotypical role, but that may be because I didn’t know how. I can’t speak fluent Korean (I regret quitting Korean school as a child now!), so it was difficult to put me in that role. The only time I felt uncomfortable [with] was when I was asked to do things that were overtly sexual or anything dance related lol! I think I’m sexiest when I’m myself. As for the dancing part, I have two left feet!
Why do you think there hasn’t been an Asian male in professional wrestling that has found an equal amount of success in the United States? Do you think that we’ll ever see an Asian male with a world title for a major American wrestling promotion?
It has been a really long time since there has been an Asian male who is dominant in wrestling. I’m not sure why. There are plenty of talented pro wrestlers in Japan. The business has changed so much since the day I entered, and it has become more entertainment based. That could be a possible reason.
I’ve read that you rolled out of the ring during that Battle Royal on WWE Raw out of frustration towards the fact that you weren’t getting many matches booked or storylines. Why do you think they didn’t feature you enough?
I’ve talked about this many times up to this point, which I don’t mind, but I think the fans and myself have moved on from this topic. To clarify, that was not the reason why, there were many reasons why including some disrespectful situations and the way women were treated, so I decided to move on. I did, and I’m happier than ever, and I will never know reasons why so I choose not to worry about that anymore. I can only look forward and try to do positive things from now on. Impact Wrestling has been home for me and it’s just been a confidence building, pro female wrestling environment. I feel like I don’t have to limit myself anymore.
Make sure to check out
Follow Gail Kim’s tweets at @gailkimitsme
Gail’s official site TheGailKim.com.