The untold truth of Always Be My Maybe

Always Be My Maybe is one Netflix original movie to watch. After all, everyone loves a good rom-com. They're heartwarming, often uplifting, and sometimes they can make even the most cynical grumps believe in love again. And while there are plenty of classics out there, from Never Been Kissed to Groundhog Day, choosing a new rom-com to watch can be difficult. Sometimest hey're too cheesy, not believable enough, or far too formulaic, which renders them banal and predictable. Fortunately, Always Be My Maybe is none of those things. 

Helmed by director Nahnatchka Khan (creator of the hit sitcom Fresh Off the Boat) and starring Ali Wong and Randall Park, the film has been hailed by critics and viewers alike as a fresh and hilarious success. That should surprise no one (have you seen Ali Wong's comedy specials, y'all?), but it's a relief to know that it turned out exactly as viewers had hoped.

So how did this gem of a movie come to see the light of day? And what might you not know about the film even if you've already watched it? Check out the untold truth of Always Be My Maybe.

Ali Wong and Randall Park are real-life buds

If you thought the on-screen chemistry between Ali Wong and Randall Park was pretty incredible, you're not alone. In fact, part of that might be because the comedic duo goes back a long time — all the way back to college at UCLA, if you can believe that! They met in the late 1990s at a friend's place, where said friend was hosting a fried rice cooking competition, as reported by The Washington Post. At least, that's how Wong recalls it. Park, on the other hand, doesn't remember their first meeting. Fortunately, however, he completely trusts her judgment. "She has a great memory," he told the paper. The two were also part of the LLC Theatre Company, a comedic performing arts group that Park co-founded. 

And in a twist that confirms all too clearly that life often imitates art, Always Be My Maybe premiered at the Regency Village Theater in Westwood, which is where UCLA is located. The surreality of that was not lost on them, either. "It's really a trip being in Westwood," Wong shared in an interview with Variety.

It's also notable that at the time of the movie's premiere, Park and Wong were 45 and 37, respectively — pretty rare for a rom-com!

"Our version of When Harry Met Sally"

For as much acclaim as Always Be My Maybe is receiving, the movie might never have been made if not for a fateful 2016 interview Wong did with The New Yorker. Wong was riding high from the success of her Netflix special Baby Cobra, and she mentioned that she and Park had been trying to make a specific movie for years — "our version of When Harry Met Sally." Of course, by "our," Wong presumably meant Asian, as there's very clearly a dearth of romantic comedies out there with Asian-American leads.

It didn't take very long for the word to get out about it after that, and boy did the internet respond. Vulture even put out a plea to Hollywood, begging to get the movie green lit. "A lot of outlets picked up on that, and we got a lot of calls from studios and producers," Park recalled in an interview with The Washington Post. "We realized there was a demand for it. That's when we kind of hunkered down and started working."

So Wong and Park got to writing the script, along with screenwriter Michael Golamco. The rest, they say, is history!

Boomerang was also an inspiration

When Harry Met Sally wasn't the only film that Wong and her crew looked to for inspiration while birthing Always Be My Maybe into existence. The 1992 star-studded comedy Boomerang, starring Eddie Murphy, was also a film Wong had in mind when fleshing out the characters and meditating on the comedic aspects of the film. "It was so revolutionary because it was all these women being funny in a way you had never seen women be funny before," she revealed in an interview with Rolling Stone. "Like Eartha Kitt showing all this sexual prowess, Grace Jones as Strangé, Tisha Campbell. They were so unafraid to express what they wanted." Pretty impressive for 1992, fam!

Additionally, Wong appreciated that the premise of Boomerang was black employees working at a black advertising agency, something she found refreshing. "I found it very empowering," she continued. "They didn't explain it and certainly didn't apologize for it. It just was what it was." And while there were films back then that put blackness up front, like Boyz in the Hood and Malcolm X, Boomerang definitely stood out as something different. 

Representation matters

The late 2010s marked an uptick in the amount of movies starring Asian-American actors, like Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I've Loved Before. Always Be My Maybe is a welcome addition to these groundbreaking films, and it really is the first of its kind. "It makes me want to see more," director Nahnatchka Khan gushed in an interview with Variety. "When you have genres that have been around for a long time, like romantic comedy or horror, the thing that feels exciting and fresh is when you see people who haven't normally been centered and then it suddenly, like, gets a new jolt." The same holds true for Jordan Peele's Us, a horror film predominantly starring black actors.

In addition to that, Park and Wong emphasized that it was equally important that they make a fantastic movie, as people wouldn't want to see it otherwise — it had to be great. "Nobody would care and be like, 'Oh hey guys, representation doesn't matter. Go away representation,'" Wong joked. "For us, it was most important that we really have fun and that hopefully that fun shows up in the finished product." Fortunately, it was a win on both fronts.

The film bucks stereotypes

Always Be My Maybe is filled with many little moments that Asian Americans resonated with in a special way, such as Judy telling Sasha, "We Koreans use scissors for everything," and Sasha preparing Spam musubi for dinner. Those moments are important, as they allow families descended from immigrants to see bits of their own everyday lives on the screen in front of them.

While that was indeed intentional, Park also wanted to make sure that the film wasn't rife with stereotypes or populated by characters that viewers would expect. "We wanted to do things that felt new and exciting to us, especially in a rom-com, where so much of it is formula-based," he explained in an interview with The Washington Post. "There are some of those beats in our movie, but we really wanted to show something new in the relationships of these characters." To that end, they sought to make the relationship between Marcus and his dad (who doesn't speak with an accent) affectionate and close. That flies in the face of the stereotypical portrayal, which shows Asian mothers and fathers with thick accents. It's a refreshing thing indeed!

Why is Marcus' band named Hello Peril?

One of the many hilarious and bitingly smart aspects of the film is Marcus' band, Hello Peril. With lyrics like, "I'm famished, the other day I ate a rat sandwich / I don't give a damn, I'll eat the thing from Pan's Labyrinth," you can't help but crack a smile in admiration of both the cleverness and the linguistic nuance. And yes, that is the famous Bay Area rapper Lyrics Born on stage with Marcus. Plus Dan the Automator actually produced all of the Hello Peril songs, according to Pitchfork. We knew it had a '90s hip-hop vibe!

You might not have caught it, but Park very deliberately named the band Hello Peril for a reason. "I wanted it to be an Asian-American band, and the name is a take on the historical term 'yellow peril,' which is basically the Western fear of the Far East taking over," he revealed in an interview with Pitchfork. "The concept of yellow peril has repeated itself throughout history, and it felt like something Marcus would have named the band, because he's a community guy and he knows his history." How clever can you get?

Yes, Park really wrote the songs

Just as life imitated art with the premiere of Always Be My Maybe being in a theater adjacent to UCLA, so too did art imitate life with Hello Peril. That's because Marcus' band is based on Park's '90s hip-hop band Ill Again, which explains why Park has such decent rapping skills. It also explains why all of the scenes with the band felt so authentic and real — they were rooted in Park's real-life experience.

It gets better too, you guys. Wong and Park were friends when the band was active, so she was familiar with their work. "She used to go to the shows, and the band was fairly similar to the one you see in the movie — except we were a lot younger," he recalled in an interview with Pitchfork. "At the time, we were a bunch of guys without much ambition just having fun, so it made sense to put that in the script." We are so here for this! 

Park added that it was important for the band to be good, otherwise Sasha wouldn't have any reason to be romantically interested in Marcus. Fortunately, he was a seriously smooth operator.

And he has no idea how handsome he is

Even though the romantic leads in Always Be My Maybe aren't conventional in either their race or their ages, it's as plain as day that Park and Wong are gorgeous. They both have perfect teeth, amazing hair, and flawless skin. Plus, they're in amazing shape, and they both take a mighty fine close-up. You did see what Park looked like when he took his shirt off, right? 

Incredibly enough, Park apparently doesn't understand what the fuss is all about. "All these people have been commenting about how [Park is] such a stud muffin, which we all knew, and he was like, 'Why are people responding like that?' Because you are, fool!" Wong gushed in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "He's a beautiful-a** man!" Um, we wholeheartedly agree.

Even the director had to take Park to school about his god-given deliciousness. "We were like, 'You are a sexy leading man. You are a snack out here on these streets. People are going to come for you,'" she said. Perhaps our favorite new leading man will finally get the memo?

Daniel Dae Kim was excited to be a jerk

Speaking of sexy, it was pretty impossible to miss that Daniel Dae Kim played the role of Brandon Choi, Sasha's fiancéYou might have recognized him from his work in Lost as Jin-Soo Kwon or perhaps as Jack Kang in Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent. Thank you for your candor indeed, Mr. Kim!

While we're over here wondering why he doesn't have his own James Bond movie yet, Kim was just massively stoked to be cast in Wong and Park's film. "They didn't even have to pitch it because I just wanted to be a part of it because I'm a fan of theirs," he gushed in an interview with Variety. "And I love the idea of two Asian-American leads in a rom-com and I wanted to do comedy, so it was a good fit." Plus he says he loved getting to play a jerk — hilarious!

FYI, y'all, Wong knew what she was doing with this casting, too. "I made Netflix spend all this money on this movie just so that, as a 37-year-old mother of two, I could kiss Daniel Dae Kim and Keanu Reeves," she shared. Giiiiirl!

Authenticity was important to the director

You might have noticed some subtle cultural details in Always Be My Maybe. For example, in the beginning, Sasha and Marcus remove their shoes when they come indoors, only replacing them when it's time to leave. That's akin to Judy pointing out that Koreans use scissors for everything. 

But some of these touches were the work of director Khan, whose movie debut is arguably a visionary one. She wanted to make sure that the time and place — the San Francisco Bay Area in the '90s — was reflected in the film, especially for Asian-Americans. "It was important because Ali is half-Vietnamese, half-Chinese, Randall is Korean, and we wanted it to be authentic to everyone's experience," she explained in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "And Randall's experience is different from Ali's experience. We wanted to show, but not make a huge meal out of it, that these things can coexist very peacefully. You don't have to just choose one thing."

So, if you felt transported to a San Francisco where the rent wasn't so darn high and there weren't hipster coffee shops everywhere, that's the reason why.

They hired a chef as a food consultant

Kimchi stew. Lemongrass dumplings. Extra shumai. And yes, even a monochrome burrito to go. In so many scenes in Always Be My Maybe, food plays an important role, both as a marker of cultural identity and a force that can either bring people together or break them apart. Food is important in every culture, and, in this film, viewers are treated to the cuisine that's significant in Asian-American traditions, such as Korean and Chinese food. Lest we forget that Sasha is a chef — and a very successful one at that!

To that end, it makes total sense that they hired celebrity chef Niki Nakayama as a consultant for the film. "She had such a keen sensibility about what the dishes should be," Khan explained in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "For me, food is so intertwined with memories. You can not see a family member for years and suddenly a dish, or a smell, or a taste will remind you and you're transported back. That was a key part of the movie, too, because they did have that history together." Who's hungry now?

The paintings in Marcus' house? Park's mom painted those.

All of the locations they filmed in the movie had a significant sense of place, one that felt familiar — especially if you grew up in the Bay Area in the '90s as Wong did. And even though Park grew up down south in Los Angeles, he put a lot of himself into his character, Marcus. "Creating Marcus and playing him just came from a real place for me in terms of the relationship to … my dad and the connection to my mom," he shared in an interview with NPR. That really comes through.

Additionally, Park literally brought aspects of his family onto the film set. "One thing about the paintings in the house that we talk about a lot is that those are actual paintings that my mom made because she was a painter," he continued. "We used her actual artwork in the house." All of that helped make things feel as genuine and close to the heart as possible for him. Someone is cutting onions in here, y'all.

The story behind that Keanu Reeves cameo

If you saw the trailer before watching Always Be My Maybe, you knew Keanu Reeves was going to show up at some point. But if you didn't, you might have fallen out of your chair when he turns up as a satirical version of himself as Sasha's date. That dinner scene was an incredible comedic success, complete with lines from Reeves like the characters' $6,400 meal costing "less than a residual paycheck from my hit movie Speed." You guys, come on!

Of course, Wong and Park wrote the role explicitly for Reeves without knowing if he'd actually take it. But much to their surprise, he did — and he reportedly was a total blast to work with. Oh Keanu, you are the light we needed right now.

Wong had some specific motives behind this casting, too. "It's always been important to me, to express my desire and attraction toward Asian American men," she confessed in an interview with Vulture. "Since I first watched Speed, I was very aware that Keanu was Asian American because my family and community wouldn't shut up about it. Maybe other people didn't know but I never forgot that." What an absolute riot!