Now that everyone has caught up to the amazingness of Always Be My Maybe (except for a few hateful and/or self-hating critics), The Unpublishables co-founder Doretta Lau and I had a more in-depth chat about what the film succeeded in doing and the boundaries that it’s broken.
MPL: So we’ve talked about this before, but I really believe that Always Be My Maybe is a love letter to Asian men
DL: Very much so! The casting is very deliberate and loving.
MPL: It’s also the variety of Asian guys that we all see
Although I tend to see more of the Randall type than the Daniel Dae Kim ones
DL: Haha well, the Randall type is everywhere. That sunny sarcastic way of being.
MPL: and kind of not wanting to risk anything
DL: Oh yes, the character Marcus speaks to a very specific kind of Asian American man.
One who has taken filial piety to a level that ends up in sweatpants.
MPL: And who never really understood how to grieve
That was another thing I appreciated
DL: They handled grief so well in the movie.
I liked that the trauma was family-based, and not one in relationship to the trauma inflicted by white supremacy.
MPL: Yes! And really, the way family was shown in this film was so specific to Asian American culture
The parents who work really hard at their business to give their daughter a better life
They had their own mini-redemption and I saw them spoiling their godson as a kind of penance
But at the same time, I really liked that it wasn’t this whole YOU ARE TERRIBLE ASIAN PARENTS
It had an Asian context, sure, but it wasn’t exploited
for lack of a better word
DL: And Ali’s character Sasha’s ability to rise above it all through the creativity she put into her food.
I was thinking about the fact that there wasn’t a single joke that spoke to anything outside of the Asian American community.
MPL: You know, I thought that the food was a great metaphor for Trojan horsing
She started off and gained success by making white people food
and then once she had secured her success
she created a restaurant that really was authentic to herself
and her experiences
Doretta Lau: Oh you’re right!
It was very subtle.
In many ways that’s what she and Randall have done with their careers.
There is a corner of the Internet that hasn’t forgiven Randall for The Interview.
MPL: Yes, and I thought that the film also showed the flip side
you could be “legit” like Hello Peril
but unless you figure out a way to expand, you’re stuck in a very limited group
Tony was kind of the push that the band needed
DL: Hello Peril is one of the best movie bands I’ve seen.
Can we just talk about how delightful their music is outside of the content of the movie?
I have been listening to “I Punched Keanu Reeves” on repeat.
MPL: Yes! I really loved the introduction song
If you look at the audience for Hello Peril
They look like they could be there for Rich Brian or Keith Ape
(too old and bougie for Kris Wu)
DL: They did a great job of casting the extras for that scene.
There are people screencapping the audience scene asking who one of the guys is–he looks super cute.
MPL: OMG i know exactly who you mean
I paused to look at him too
DL: Haha right? Asian America is thirsty and this movie is slaking that thirst.
MPL: He has fantasic hair
DL: He looked like he was enjoying Hello Peril, which is also a bonus.
MPL: Hahaha he looks young enough to be thinking WOW THE DAD FROM FRESH OFF THE BOAT CAN SPIT
DL: Haha so true.
I have to say that reviewers who think that Ali and Randall didn’t have chemistry are people who don’t think Asian men are attractive.
Because for me they had so much chemistry.
MPL: It’s crazy!
There was also that fucked up reviewer on NYT who said that Ali was disturbingly confident or something
I don’t think that person knows any Asian people
DL: The longing pained me!
Ali’s suffering–god I’m crying just thinking about it.
The love Sasha had for Marcus for so long, wanting him to just love himself as much as she loves him.
MPL: The scene where she was so matter-of-fact about crushing on him for 18 years
and Keanu’s reaction
DL: Keanu made a hilarious face, like HIM?
And at that point Sasha starts to dislike Keanu.
That scene was masterful for character development at pacing.
MPL: Yes, totally
Who knew Keanu could play a douche!
DL: And people say he can’t act!
Keanu: neutral evil. Jenny: neutral evil. Marcus: chaotic neutral. Sasha: lawful neutral or lawful good?
DL: When I found out that Keanu came up with the Chinese dignitaries joke, I fell in love with him a little.
MPL: That was fantastic
Just so random and yet believable because of its utter randomness
DL: The way he relished saying each name!
It was hilarious.
And Randall’s performance throughout the entire Keanu sequence was spectacular.
MPL: I also like how the four of them were like just a bunch of Asian people hanging out
DL: Drinking and being foolish and wasting time.
It’s our lives.
MPL: It’s kind of sad that we’re so impressed by mundanity
But that’s the state of diversity now
you gotta be ASIAN
tragic Asian with shitty parents
TRAPPED BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
instead of daring each other to punch in the face
DL: Haha it was such an Asian fight: I’m feeling your energy!
And Marcus being like WELL THEN, IMMA PUNCH MY ELDER.
There was no bullshit, just very direct matter of factness.
MPL: and then writing a song about it
I mean, that’s basically most of Chinese opera
I KICKED THIS DUDE’S ASS
DL: Epic stunting.
MPL: I would love to see a Chinese opera re enactment of that scene, btw
DL: Challenge to the young people doing Chinese opera!
We know you’re practicing the craft so here’s something for those nights you’re trying to get a youth audience into seats.
MPL: With the gongs and cymbals and the drums
And that final CLICK
when the fist connects
[Ed. a clip below illustrating what MPL is thinking of, just imagine the actors doing this]
DL: This is random, but when I see drag queens doing makeup, or even just makeup gurus contouring, I’m just like hey this is Chinese opera makeup.
MPL: yes totally!
the strong brows and stripe down the nose
DL: And putting down that super white base foundation as the canvas.
It’s really a way to express maximum emotion.
And really, Always Be My Maybe was that–a way to express maximum emotion.
MPL: Yes and the symbolism, the shortcut to significance–but only if you’re already part of the culture
I don’t think it’s exclusive
Because people are welcome to learn
But you have to love the culture to really get it
DL: This movie was all about love.
M: Yes, it is
DL: Everything in it was done out of love, and that’s why it speaks to so many of us.
There’s no bitterness in it–it’s a celebration.
Of the fact that we’re human beings and we’re worthy of love and loving.
M: Exactly. I think those people who dislike it don’t have that love for themselves
DL: That speech when Sasha says she just wants to be with Marcus, even when he’s being an asshole, I ugly cried.
Take that, “You had me at hello.”
That was a rom com line for the ages.
MPL: And when they revealed it was Judy’s restaurant
DL: Oh when they revealed it was all Judy’s recipes, I was like my heart cannot take this!
MPL: I will say though, Randall’s assholeness isn’t really that bad
It’s like sheepish assholeness
DL: It’s the assholeness of the insecure. And of the lost.
MPL: and it’s self-aware
DL: True, that painful self-awareness where it seems like any choice causes too much suffering.
Which causes inertia and anger.
MPL: Yes! I actually think Marcus is chaotic good
Because a chaotic neutral would be content to live selfishly
DL: That’s his character shift! He’s living as a chaotic neutral.
But really, he’s a chaotic good.
But he’s denying that.
He doesn’t think he’s good enough to be good.
He’s just the guy with the band in the small venue who lives to give his dad injections.
DL: Every aspect of this movie was thought out so well.
The fact that her parents no longer live next door.
And that the new house had the kind of backyard that could allow for the birthday scene.
M: It really makes a difference when your cast/crew are Asian
DL: Oh when the cast and crew are Asian, it makes the world seem real and not some weird ploy for diversity.
This is a screenplay written by Asians who love being Asian.
MPL: I promise that this isn’t that much of a leap
but I’ve been reading up on [Bong Joon Ho’s latest award-winning film] Parasite
And I ended up going into this wormhole of Director Bong’s films and of course that led me to Steven Yeun
and when he was doing press for Burning, he kept repeating how he was finally cast as a person
And I don’t think that upcoming Marvel film Shang Chi or whatever can do justice to Asians the way they did to Black Panther
because you need to have grown up in a community where being Asian is just a given
to be able to create a situation where Asianness is context but not spectacle
DL: Yes! This the problem with “diversity” films–they’re about making a spectacle of our lives.
Stripping away our humanity for someone else’s entertainment.
Like the difference between Asian martial arts films is that the martial arts is just part of the character
DL: It’s the 10,000 hours of craft they embarked on, it’s just a job.
It would be like being a computer programmer in another movie.
DL: It informs their character because action is character, but it isn’t everything.
MPL: martial arts films at their core are folk stories
local heroes beating bad guys with their skill
DL: Every culture has these traditions, but when martial arts are translated to Hollywood, that cultural context is lost.
M: And I think a film like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
conversely, the Koreanness is like a little spice to whiteness
just enough to make things “unique” but not enough to actually affect whiteness
DL: And that’s how Keanu is usually cast.
DL: This is why this movie is such a moment for him.
This was a moment where Ali made a decision to reclaim him for our community, and for him to assert that as well.
MPL: Yes absolutely!
DL: I’m tearing up just thinking about Ali’s love for Asian men.
She saw people suffering in the culture, men who are relegated to the margins under some white feminist notion.
And she gave all that the middle finger.
MPL: And so smoothly that she didn’t even ruffle the Asian women who hate Asian men!
It just shows you the power of humour and positivity
DL: Yes! She never once made anyone feel shitty about their own personal politics.
She just made it about DDK’s abs.
She appealed to thirst.
I mean, who goes on Ellen with someone else’s thirst trap photos?
[Ed. Here is Ali on Ellen having a transcendental moment over DDK]
MPL: You notice how smoothly she shifted the converstaion from Keanu back to DDK
DL: That was masterful.
She made sure to come back to the narrative.
MPL: People should learn from that
Keep focused on the message
DL: Ali Wong is essentially delivering a masterclass in marketing right now.
I hope people take notes
DL: To watch her do the promo has been pure joy from a business analysis standpoint.
Her Instagram game is tight.
And the luck of Niki Nakayama, who designed the food for the film, winning two Michelin stars right now is just * chef’s kiss *
Plus you’ve mentioned to me the timing of Ali being on tour while this happens
She’s had to add shows and cities to her tour
MPL: Yes, just fantastic
And let’s not forget John Wick 3 opening a week before
Maybe this is all just coincidence
but it seems too convenient
DL: Oh John Wick 3 opening the week before and the outpouring of Keanu stories
While memes of Keanu in those Tom Ford glasses were floating around
On top of this all, Ali is dropping a book in the fall.
MPL: She put in the work
And she’s maximizing it
This is basically like an artist who has a hit single
and has all the important tools to follow up so that she dominates for months
DL: I’m so inspired to make content.
It’s all about making content in the end.
None of this promo would be for anything if she didn’t have the content to back it up.
And I hope people understand that