For years I’d never seen someone that looked like me on screen, that spoke the same language as me, or even ate the same food as me. Yet in the past couple of years, we’ve seen an improvement in the representation of Asian people onscreen, from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before with a biracial teen lead, to Crazy Rich Asians with a full Asian cast. Always Be My Maybe is the newest film in this line-up, but what makes it stand out is its portrayal of Asian diaspora in an ordinary setting.
The idea for Always Be My Maybe came from the film’s writer Ali Wong in a stray comment to Profile: basically, she and her best friend Randall Park wanted to make their own version of When Harry Met Sally. The film follows childhood best friends Sasha Tran (Ali Wong) and Marcus Kim (Randall Park) who lost touch over the years after one rather unfortunate evening and reconnect years later. In the present, Sasha is a famous chef in Los Angeles known for her Asian-fusion food. Marcus is working for his dad’s air conditioning business, is the lead singer of the same band since high school called Hello Peril, and hasn’t moved out of home.
I watched Always Be My Maybe in bed on a Friday night with a tiny glass of red wine and a bowl of chips on my crossed legs. From the first scene, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia, yearning for my mum’s cooking and the familiar sounds of my Vietnamese family eating and talking to each other. It made me giddy to know there were others out there watching this film as two Asian leads fell in love. It also showed me the small cultural details about an Asian, especially Vietnamese, home: leaving your shoes at the door, having rice and spam (or in my case, Chinese sausage or lap cheong) for dinner, and the plastic covers on the lounge. However, ethnicity isn’t at the forefront of the film; it comes secondary to the exploration of identity, family and romance in the 21st century.
There were four things that stood out to me while watching this film:
Number one: Sasha Tran is no submissive, cutesy Asian woman.
No, she’s unflinchingly honest, is determined to make her own future and downright owns her sexuality. My love for Sasha was solidified during a blowout with Marcus who accuses Sasha of producing “elevated Asian cuisine” to cater to “rich white people”. Her response: “If you think I’m such a sellout, why are you dating me? Don’t shame me for going after things!”
It’s not often you see Asian women portrayed like this: ordinary, hard-working, successful people who aren’t having a cultural identity crisis. Instead, it’s about who they are as a person, and how much more badass they can be. I stan this movie, Ali Wong.
Number two: Asian men are hot.
There’s this stereotype among Western culture that Asian men are not attractive and Always Be My Maybe shuts it down. Ali Wong wrote her character to make out with not just one, but three good-looking Asian-American men (and yes, Keanu Reeves is Asian). Daniel Dae Kim’s cheekbones could cut glass. Randall Park can take me out on a date any day of the week. Just hit me up. That staircase kissing scene – Lord have mercy.
Number three: There are no doctors, dentists or lawyers.
The movie is a celebration of Asian artists and professions. Sasha is a chef, Marcus is a musician, Brandon is a restaurateur, Mrs Kim is a painter, Mr Kim runs an air conditioning service, the Trans run a store, Marcus’ girlfriend Jenny is a slam poet and community activist. There are no doctors, dentists or lawyers in the house, completely subverting the myth that all Asians are rich, obsessed with study, and work in top-tier professions to maintain family honour. Instead, we’re shown a tapestry of various careers and passions that Asian-Americans pursue. I mean, I dropped out of law after one semester and I seem to be doing just fine.
Number four: Parents make mistakes too.
Neither the Kims nor the Trans demonstrate examples of tiger parenting. No one is forced to play the piano or violin. No one is locked up in their rooms studying until the late hours of the night to ace their exams. Instead, the movie shows the Kims as supportive parents. Judy Kim teaches Sasha how to cook, positively affirming her efforts to learn. Harry Kim is a funny and loving father who doesn’t even blink when he sees his son smoking pot in his bedroom.
While the Trans were absent for most of Sasha’s childhood, they continue to be supportive and proud of her. She’s not the dutiful Asian daughter – she’s a high-flying chef who eventually confronts the pain of being neglected as a child. Watching the Trans try to mend their relationship with their adult daughter simply shows that Asian parents aren’t one-dimensional and only care about familial piety as is typically associated with this stereotype. It’s a tender exploration of family dynamics, especially the ones between child and parent.
The entire experience of Always Be My Maybe is exactly what I wanted. It’s an unapologetic, laugh-out-loud romantic comedy that doesn’t scream “diversity!” at you. It’s clever, endearing, and brilliant, and you should just go home and watch it.
Featured image via Netflix.