Asian American-led programmes on Netflix to watch

It’s so rare to find someone without a Netflix account these days – even if you don’t really subscribe to an account, chances are you’ve probably snagged someone else’s account. If there’s one thing Netflix is known for, it’s for its equal opportunity representation; this time, we focus on Asian leads in non-Asian programmes.

There’s a lot of buzz around Kim’s Convenience, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Ali Wong – all for very different reasons. Here’s why you should watch them, if you haven’t already:

Kim’s Convenience (2016)

Genre: Comedy, drama | Format: 2 Seasons (13 eps each), greenlit for 2 more seasons

Okay. We admit this is Canadian… but it’s still on the North American continent. Kim’s Convenience is a family sitcom centred around a Korean family in cosmopolitan Toronto. It focuses on Mr and Mrs Kim, immigrant parents who run a convenience store with their daughter Janet (and outcast son Jung).

The show is like a rojak that throws people of all backgrounds together – a Chinese neighbour, an Indian businessman, gay neighbours, a hippy parent with a spoiled toddler, two sisters in full niqab, etc – as customers of the store. The comedy is well written and at times super witty, with humour stemming from Mr. Kim’s stubbornness, Mrs. Kim’s love of meddling, and Janet who just can’t seem to get a break. And then there’s Jung, who has a strange relationship with his neurotic boss Shannon and lives with his not-too-bright best friend, Kimchee.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

Genre: Romcom, teen | Format: Film (1hr 40m)

Billed as the first Netflix-funded film to have an Asian female as the lead, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before follows the tribulations of Lara Jean, a Korean American high-school teen, whose secret love letters to five boys she had a crush on were mysteriously mailed to them. One of them is her sister’s ex-boyfriend Josh, and to deflect her guilt, she and classmate/school hunk Peter (another recipient of her letters) agree to pretend to date; Peter only agrees to do so in order to make his ex-girlfriend jealous (and get back with her).

The film is sweet and addictive as candy, because instead of being an atypical story, it simply plays off of familiar tropes and archetypes. Obviously, we all know how this light-hearted teen romcom ends, and don’t be surprised if you can actually relate to some of the characters or scenarios. This movie is based on Jenny Han’s New York Times bestselling novel of the same title, which part of a three-book series.

Ali Wong – Hard Knock Wife (2018), Baby Cobra (2016)

Genre: Comedy, Stand-up | Format: Stand-up (1hr) | Rating: R21 / NC16

Ali Wong is a hilarious comedian who really turns everyone’s conceptions of an Asian American upside down. Her sharp wit explores all kinds of topics – in Baby Cobra she makes us crack up with her deliriously filthy comedy that sneakily weaves in a feminist assault on the double standards of parenting, the sex appeal of Asian men (“they got no body hair from the neck down”), and even the not-so-subtle racism among Asians she dubs “cool Asian” and “jungle Asian”.

In Hard Knock Wife, she’s still very much all about filthy jokes – some of them really make you groan – and once again, she talks about motherhood and babies (which she nicknames a “human Tamagotchi that don’t got no reset button”) and how she’s battling the universal sexism that exists at home and work (she now makes more money than her Harvard Business grad hubby, btw). She also shows us the gross parts of motherhood with her really vivid descriptions.

She’s a really active stage performer – did we mention she also appeared in both her comedy specials while heavily pregnant? Did we also mention that she’s got no fear of dirty jokes? If you can’t handle d*ck jokes, steer clear away from Ali Wong.

The Feels (2018)

Genre: Rom-com | Format: Movie (1hr 27 m) | Rating: R21

A rare inclusion in Singapore’s version of Netflix is The Feels, starring Crazy Rich Asians‘ star Constance Wu (playing the role of Andi), which is an indie rom-com about a lesbian couple who hit a snag during their bachelorette party.

Joining their mostly-female friends in a cabin over the weekend, Lu and Andi’s bachelorette party takes a surprising turn when a drunk Lu shares a startling personal secret involving sex. Everyone tries to help in their own weird ways, and while some reveal problems of their own, others engage in loose relationships; in short, the party goes awry. The cast is also filled with characters who feel familiar to everyone – that confused ‘best friend’, people you love but drive you nuts, and family members you constantly judge but need, etc.

Some of the behaviours are over the top – much of the dialogue feels very improvised – but the film throws all pre-conceived notions about sexuality out the window. Boasting an 80% female cast and a 68% female crew, it’s purposefully engineered to create opportunities for women, POC and the LGBTQ community.