In order to be accepted and celebrated by mainstream audiences, Asian-American men run the double-edged risk of being perceived as "too Asian" and also feeling like an imposter of their own race.
Randall Park is hot like a burned-out high school shop teacher who's nice even when he's hungover.
Randall Park is camp counselor hot. Randall Park is take-home-to-parents hot. Or, as Buzzfeed News described, Park has "crinkly-eyed dad allure." Thanks to American media's "Asian wave" in the late 2010s (particularly the Korean Wave—or hallyu) across music, film, and television), some of today's most recognizable leading men now include the likes of Randall Park, Daniel Dae Kim, and Steven Yeun. But historically, Asian men have been erased, emasculated, or outright mocked in mainstream American media as the "least desirable" type of men.
The trajectory of Park's career, from his early struggles to his recent surge of success, is a reflection of the shifting attitudes towards Asian men. In an interview with Buzzfeed News, Park was described as having "an instantly recognizable face. That's both because his face is handsome in that classic movie actor way, but also because he's been in like, everything…" Best known as the well-meaning father in Fresh Off the Boat, Park was beloved in his role as the charming chump Marcus Kim, the HVAC technician and aspiring rapper who woos Ali Wong's character in Always Be My Maybe. The rom-com is a triumph in Asian-American representation precisely because it doesn't tokenize Asian ethnicity. Wong told Vulture, "What happens when you populate a movie with a lot of Asian-American people is that they get to be people. They don't have to be the Asian person in the movie."
But the recent rise of Asian men in media begs the questions of how and why they've been excluded from traditional "western" standards of Hollywood attractiveness in the first place. Before Crazy Rich Asians spotlighted Malaysian-British actor Henry Golding and showed America that "Asian men are hot," Asian characters were stereotypically "unattractive, asexual, always the sidekick." In fact, as of 2016, only 1% of Hollywood's leading roles went to Asian actors.
Park experienced firsthand the kind of typecasting and limiting stereotypes about Asian men propagated by the media. He's worked as a writer and actor in Hollywood since 2003. Early in his career, Vulture detailed, "Park was confronted with the moral dilemma actors of color have often faced: Do you refuse the compromising role, or do you take it and live to eat another day? He has his regrets. The first pilot he ever got was a Fox sitcom called Lucky Us in 2004, in which he played the evil neighbor, a gay Mr. Yunioshi caricature named Jimmy."
While it's not surprising for Hollywood to lack diverse representation, the American public seems to agree that Asian men are not as appealing as other races. Statistically, data collected from dating apps like OkCupid repeatedly show that Asian men have the lowest approval ratings from white, black, and Latina women. Ever since Asian-Americans were first heralded as the "model minority" in the 1960s, multiple studies have observed a strange paradox that Asian men were rated as being less desirable than other races despite being the most financially stable as a social group.
But therein lies much of the appeal of Randall Park's character in Always Be in My Maybe: He's just another schlub. He's not rich or successful, and his lifestyle is shaky as a full-time HVAC man and part-time aspiring rapper. BuzzFeed News points out that the film's success is partly due to "The Rise of the Rom-Com Schlub": "It's easy to see how these films could be interpreted as male wish fulfillment fantasies about characters who are inexplicably liked by women even as the men don't seem to have much to offer."
Today, the Asian stereotypes of the stable and hard-working man, who's either intolerably nerdy or cold and emotionally unavailable, can't stand up in the face of the all-American schlub. Characters like Park's burned out Marcus Kim are "stealth smokeshows, and their characters are funny and disarming and entirely plausible as objects of affection." While "rom-coms have tended to abide by conflicted, sometimes regressive ideas about masculinity themselves," the under-achieving, well-meaning, and supportive burnout who's still trying to figure himself out is trying, "however imperfectly, to pry the genre away from that."
Writer Jason Shen at Vox agrees, adding that the film's introduction of an "Asian American underachiever is groundbreaking." He writes, "It might sound strange, but an Asian-American lead character playing a low achiever might just be what our community needs right now…Through its main characters, Always Be My Maybe expands what it means to be Asian American. Marcus may not have a great career, but that's never treated as a fundamental character flaw." Ultimately, he gets the girl in the end "because he overcame his fear of change and grew as a person. And that's something we can all relate to."
So how long can our newfound appreciation for Asian men last? In order to be accepted and celebrated by mainstream audiences, Asian-American men run the double-edged risk of being perceived as "too Asian" and also feeling like an imposter of their own race. Park, for all of his recent success, acknowledges feeling a sense of imposter syndrome. Born to Korean immigrants and raised in Los Angeles, he spoke with BuzzFeed about his poor Korean language skills and feeling like he's "not Asian enough." He commented, "Yeah, of course. Especially Korean impostor syndrome. I didn't have a lot of Korean friends growing up. I had like one Korean friend, who was my closest friend but we were both surrounded by other races. I love the food, I make kimchi because it really connects me, but I'm always trying to find ways to connect to my Koreanness more."
There seems to be staying power to our current "Asian wave." Twitter is clearly supportive of ogling Asian men. And Ali Wong has been gushing about the attractiveness of Asian men since her first hit comedy special Baby Cobra in 2015: "No body odor. None. They just smell like responsibility. Asian men are the sexiest. They have no body hair from the neck down. It's like making love to a dolphin."
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Usually those unexplored multitudes are just daddy issues and a preference for foot stuff, but the joy is in the journey of finding out.
You may not be able to define in words what exactly makes a person attractive, but you know it when you see it.
Of course, there is a huge difference between what makes Justin Beiber hot and what makes Bill Nye the Science Guy hot (don't judge, we don't kink-shame in this household). For those of us who find men attractive—god help us—the question of attractiveness is particularly complicated. Why Matt Bomer is hot is a simple enough question (he looks like a naughty Ken Doll who has more than plastic beneath his trunks), but things get more nuanced when you consider why leagues of real human beings with eyes find Benedict Cumberbatch attractive or why women regularly throw their panties at Post Malone.
To help you through the haunted, endless maze of human sexuality, Popdust has broken down all the types of hot a man can be. Chances are, every man you've ever been attracted to falls into one of these categories.
"Want to Build a Life With Him" Hot
Example: Randall Park
This is the kind of guy you want to take home to your mother. Sure, the sex is only okay, but what does that matter when you wake up every morning to homemade pancakes? This isn't the type of guy you fantasize about f**king on the kitchen floor, this is the kind of guy whose eyes you picture filling with tears when you buy your first home together. He's not exactly a daddy, but he would make a great literal daddy.
"Church Boy" Hot
Example: Tom Holland
Avengers Infinity War film premiere Arrivals Los Angeles USA 23 Apr 2018 Jen Lowery/SilverHub/REX/Shutterstock
Something about this guy's small-town haircut and innocent, sunny smile makes you want to corrupt the sh*t out of him. He always looks a little shocked when you make a dirty joke, but you just know that with some intervention from the devil (you) you'd have that perfectly gelled hair mussed in no time. But also...some small part of you wants to let him make you a better person??? A very small part. Mostly, you just want to ruin his life.
"Rearrange My Guts" Hot
Example: Jason Momoa
You don't want this guy to take you to a nice dinner at a trendy restaurant—you want him to eat take-out off your ass and throw you around like a rag doll. Sure, he probably has thoughts in his head and a personality and interests and blah blah blah LOOK AT THOSE ARMS. This is the kind of guy you want to spend 72 hours in bed with every 4-6 months but otherwise never see. This is the kind of guy you agree to go camping with despite hating the outdoors because you just love watching him pitch a tent (yes, that was a double entendre, you filthy minx).
"Got Your Teenage Sister Pregnant, but You Kind of Get It" Hot
Example: Norman Reedus
Okay, not literally!!! (maybe literally). But you know that kind of smarmy guy who works at the gas station and says borderline-inappropriate things to you every time you see him? But for some reason, you just can't summon feminist rage about it and instead sorta giggle and blush and wonder what his tobacco-stained fingers would feel like pulling your hair? Yeah, that guy. He's a good-for-nothing, uneducated, creepy, grungy, loser...and that kind of works for you.
"You Knew He Would Be Weird in Bed" Hot
Example: Lenny Kravitz
So he's super hot in all the traditional ways, from facial structure to swagger, but there's also something a little...extra. Something about him that's...unhinged. Some kind of mad twinkle in his eye that speaks of unexplored multitudes. In most cases, those multitudes are just daddy issues and a preference for foot stuff, but the joy is in the journey of finding out.
Example: Vince Vaughn
He's not a bad looking guy—maybe a little chubby, maybe a little bald—but there's something about him that makes it clear he led his high school football team to the state semi-finals in 1984. That thing is that he brings it up...constantly. He still has the overblown confidence of a muscle-bound 18-year-old but with none of the muscle or youth.
"In Context" Hot (e.g. like a high school women's lacrosse coach)
Example: Beto O'rourke
Beto O' Rourke AP
In most situations, this guy isn't going to turn many heads. But put him on a public school field with 23 hormone-ridden 16-year-olds running laps, and you've got yourself an absolute sex magnet. Alternatively, put him in a political race populated by old, saggy, white people, and suddenly his ability to tuck in his shirt over his gut seems exceptional.
Example: Benedict Cumberbatch
This is a broad but important category that this reputable publication has dwelled on seriously for quite some time. An ugly hot guy has an appearance that falls outside the boundaries of conventional attractiveness. Maybe he has a weird horse face or limbs that flail like a carwash's inflatable man in heavy wind (think Pete Davidson). But if you take all of his objectively unattractive features and put them together, somehow, it just works.
"Ascot/Take Me on a Yacht" Hot
Example: Patrick Dempsey
Patrick Dempsey attending the world premiere of Bridget Jones's Baby at the Odeon cinema, Leicester Square, London. Alamy Stock Photo
This is better than just being rich—it's looking rich. This is ascot hot. This guy's actual God-given looks are largely irrelevant because money made him his own God. He has the money and time to ensure his hair, skin, and clothes are flawless in a "Who me? I just rolled out of bed like this…" kind of way. If this is your type, it's fine, we get it. There's something about being attracted to a Republican that feels so deliciously...deplorable.
"Ready To Risk It All" Hot
Example: Idris Elba
This is the kind of hot you leave your husband for. This is the kind of hot you leave your wife for. This is the kind of hot you sell your house for. This is the kind of hot you pretend to like his DJ set for. Is the sex good? It literally doesn't matter, just look at him.
"Party Boy" Hot
Example: Colin Farrell
Does he have a substance abuse problem? Probably. Is he reliable? Not at all. Do any of his values align with yours? Absolutely not. Is he a great f**king time? Oh yeah. This guy probably has one of those annoyingly hot side smiles, maybe a kind of hard-to-understand accent, and the sex is probably kind of like being mauled by a drunk bear but in a good way. He probably has an earring he doesn't remember getting but kind of pulls it off. It goes without saying that your Dad hates him.
Example: Timothée Chalamet
This is a complicated category. He makes your uterus ache, but you can't tell if that's sexual arousal or your biological clock ticking. You can't decide if you want to take a bath with him or give him a bath. Either way, you definitely wanna smooch that sweet lil face.
Example: Harry Styles
He is comfortable with his feminine side, and he wants you to know it. You wanna argue with him about the fallacy of placing the responsibility for climate change on the shoulders of individuals when a handful of corporations are ultimately responsible—but he has those puppy dog eyes, so you just give in and agree to give up plastic straws. His slam poetry competitions are cringe-worthy, but he just looks so good in ripped Levi's and a beanie.
"Wouldn't Be Surprised if He Turned Out to Be a Serial Killer" Hot
Example: Rami Malek
Hollywood Foreign Press Association Annual Grants Banquet, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 09 Aug 2018 John Salangsang/BFA/REX/ShutterstockHe speaks, acts, and behaves like a robot who has heard about the behavior of human beings but never actually seen it. There's something magnetic about his strangeness, and suddenly the legacy of Ted Bundy makes sense to you. Everything about him is subtly unsettling, but personality disorders aside....he could get it.
Example: Seth Rogan
He only chuckles at your jokes but cries laughing when his gamer buddy says something about farts. He always needs a haircut, has stains on his shirt, and probably smells faintly of Doritos. Still, something about his anti-establishment,"being handsome is mainstream" attitude does it for you.
Example: Post Malone
This one comes with a lot of justified self-loathing. Just do better.
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Did you miss the hidden cultural references, Keanu Reeves improvising, or the ultimate secret to good Asian food?
Always Be My Maybe is the long-awaited result of Ali Wong and Randall Park's shared love of rom-coms, their years of working the San Francisco stand-up comedy circuit together, and mainstream cinema's sore need for more Asian-American representation.
In a 2016 interview with The New Yorker, Wong joked that she and Park planned to make "our version of When Harry Met Sally." Taking additional inspiration from Eddie Murphy's Boomerang (1992), they joined forces with Michael Golamco (Grimm) to co-write Always Be My Maybe, a uniquely authentic Asian-American love story. Its merit lies in the fact that it isn't centered on Asian-American identity as an existential problem—rather, the love story just happens to involve two people who share that cultural background.
In fact, understatement is one of the film's smartest features. Director Nahnatchka Khan (Fresh Off the Boat) creates immersive scenes of Asian-American culture in the San Francisco Bay area spanning from 1996 to 2019. Wong described the film's careful subtlety: "It's such a cool, confident thing when you don't explain the premise, you just have the premise. It's our reality, and we're not going to take time to explain it."
The Washington Post
Ali Wong and Randall Park apparently LOVE this movie."When Harry Met Sally"
The plot has simple and familiar rom-com tropes: A successful (and wildly wealthy) adult returns to her troubled childhood home; she reunites with her childhood best friend; the two friends harbor hidden feelings for one another; a rival suitor comes along to challenge their promising romance; they're driven to confess their feelings for each other. It's a plot cooked in 90s rom-coms, with Wong and Park pandering to the tropes in order to subvert them by adding a brand new context: the Asian-American community in San Francisco.
So in Wong and Park's version of When Harry Met Sally, it goes like this: Sasha Tran (Wong) is a celebrity chef whose success has allowed her to open a series of restaurants specializing in "elevated Asian cuisine." Her jet-setting lifestyle leads her back to San Francisco, where she reunites with her childhood best friend, Marcus (Park), who's still living in his childhood home, taking care of his father, smoking a lot of weed, and fronting a local all Asian rap group called "Hello Peril" (get it? It's a brilliant play on "yellow peril" because: racism. Also, their music is excellent. Seriously, listen to this good shit). As for the rival suitor who literally makes Sasha's toes curl and finally prompts Marcus to profess his feelings, yes, it's Keanu Reeves: Hollywood's "Only Good Celebrity."
We don't deserve Keanu Reeves https://t.co/20Nm0lMrfw— Netflix US (@Netflix US)1559428524.0
Reeves plays (and even improvises) an over-the-top, narcissistic version of himself, satirizing both his own reputation as "one of the nicest actors in Hollywood" and the whole worshipful culture of fame. His character is a face toucher and an intense starer who breathes nonsense like, "The only stars that matter are the ones you see when you dream." Wong, Park, and Khan all wanted Reeves as the first choice for the role. Aside from bragging that she got to kiss both Keanu Reeves and Daniel Dae Kim, who plays Sasha's short-lived fiance in the film, Wong said, "We thought, Who would be Marcus's worst nightmare? It should be an Asian American icon who's a great actor and who's funny but also willing to make fun of himself...[Keanu] was flattered that we remembered he was Asian American."
She added, "It's always been important to me, to express my desire and attraction toward Asian American men. 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."
At worst, the film's incredible comedic strengths can make its romantic speeches seem lackluster; but, even then, Wong and Park's performances are inspiring in their earnestness. In fact, the entire film speaks of authenticity, from depicting friendly, easy-going Asian-American parents who aren't tokenized as strident traditionalists to portraying the awkward exchanges between LGBTQ individuals and those well-meaning people who awkwardly try too hard to show they're "allies."
For instance, Asian Twitter celebrated the film's rare inclusion of two Asian-American leads and its attention to cultural details, including the multi-ethnic neighborhood of the S.F. Bay area in the 1990s. One user wrote, "If no one says it, I will. #AlwaysBeMyMaybe is not just a film that's an ode to asian food but also an ode to 90s bay area hip hop and the asian americans who grew up embracing that culture…"
if no one says it, I will. #AlwaysBeMyMaybe is not just a film that's an ode to asian food but also an ode to 90s b… https://t.co/zym3uUCbh5— 🤷🏾♀️ jenilee. 🤷🏾♀️ (@🤷🏾♀️ jenilee. 🤷🏾♀️)1559330516.0
William Wu wrote, "#AlwaysBeMyMaybe gives us a film with four parents who are loving, funny, and charming in their own unique ways. It is a rarity to see older Asian characters not be depicted as caricatures. I recognize these parents. I know them. It is great to see them in this movie."
#AlwaysBeMyMaybe gives us a film with four parents who are loving, funny, and charming in their own unique ways. It… https://t.co/H0U9TuosZQ— William Yu (@William Yu)1559424377.0
It took me this long to realize “Hello Peril” was a play on words.— amber ruffin (@amber ruffin)1559528524.0
Y'all THE SPAM AND FURIKAKE OVER RICE HAD me and @seanmiura TEARING UP ALREADY when we watched this in the theater.… https://t.co/O2qv1zmenV— Jenny Yang stands w the WGA (@Jenny Yang stands w the WGA)1559523707.0
- recognizes the ways AsAm identity and coming of age are inextricably tied to the experience of food—how it's made… https://t.co/j1fjK42Iph— Nicole Clark (@Nicole Clark)1559328046.0
Finally, Always Be My Maybe celebrates food as cultural and familial touchstones. We don't just crave films with diverse casting; we want good films representing diverse cultures, which Always Be My Maybe delivers intelligently and poignantly. From Marcus' Korean mother teaching a young Sasha how to cook kimchi jigae, a spicy stew, to adult Sasha marketing her next restaurant as hipster-baiting "nondenominational modern Vietnamese fusion," their particular stories speak about race, class, and family in any situation. It simply does so while offering insights into Asian-American culture, like when Marcus grows sick of Sasha's elitist food and deadpans, "Asian food shouldn't be served in a shot glass. It should be served in a big ass bowl."
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