How a Trending Netflix Rom-Com Teaches Us About Culture

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before? Noah Centineo?  Whether you’ve joined in on this ultimate movie frenzy or have been on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter— basically any form of social media in the last month— those words probably ring a bell.  Teenagers all across the world are fangirling (or fanboying) over the movie To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the current Netflix sensation.  Most people probably watched the movie for a two hour escape from reality into a world of romance and relatable high school experiences.  And you probably finished the movie thinking one of two things. One: “Wow… Noah Centineo is really hot.” Or two: “I wish I had some love in my life.”  But these movies envelope ideas that are more valuable than just teenage love.  

“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” features a Korean-American family of a single father raising his three daughters.  Lara Jean, the main character, writes love letters to her crushes and keeps them hidden in a box. When her younger sister, Kitty, sends the letters out to their respective recipients, Laura Jean finds herself “fake-dating” a boy, Peter Kavinsky.  The movie unravels the details of how her fake relationship with Peter Kavinsky led to her finding her true love.

Everyone who watched the movie was absorbed in Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky’s suspenseful and heart-fluttering romance.  But I’m sure the Korean-American audience noticed something more throughout the film. Even the cast gives heavy emphasis on Asian-American actors in an otherwise White-dominated movie market.  Personally, I feel represented and proud whenever a Korean-American family is featured in a US movie or TV show because I can relate to their daily struggles so well.

Laura Jean’s father struggles to follow the Korean food recipe that their mother left behind when she passed away.  In the midst of constant meals of In-N-Out, Italian food, and Chinese takeout, the father wanted his two girls to enjoy a nice home-cooked Korean meal, a way to find your true culture despite being surrounded in people of different nationalities.  

The most famous reference to Korean culture can be seen when Peter Kavinsky is introduced to a “Korean yogurt smoothie”, known as Yakult (야쿠르트).

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  After taking a sip, Peter Kavinsky actually loved it, being pleasantly surprised at the unique taste.  Since I know many Korean-Americans who grew up in the United States being surrounded with friends who were unfamiliar with the snacks they brought to school and hesitant to try them because they were “Korean”, this scene was a new and pleasant welcome for me.  

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A while into the movie, Peter Kavinsky makes a romantic move of driving all the way across town to the Korean market to buy the yogurt smoothie Laura Jean’s family loves so much.  After the film’s release, stores in the United States have been selling out of these Yakult drinks. My Korean friends living in the US have been telling me that since the movie had gained popularity, their non-Korean friends are finally trying those drinks. The teenage Korean-American Twitter community especially blew up after this movie, posting about how this movie has sensationalized their favorite childhood drink.

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It’s personally great to see so many new people trying and enjoying one of my all-time favorites as it feels like Korean culture is being shared across the United States.  This movie depicts the realness of Korean lives and emotions, showing the international audience that we are essentially the same people as them. Yes, we have our Korean quirks, and yes, we are unique in our own ways.  But this film sheds light upon the fact that Korean-Americans aren’t just tiger-parents and super good at math, but rather that we are more than just the typical Asian stereotype.

Granted, Yakult becoming widespread and enjoyed doesn’t really seem like much.  But it’s a way for other cultures to learn about ours and experience it for themselves.  I’m certainly happy when Korean-American families or characters become new hits in the United States, as it means our culture and our lives are being appreciated.  It’s not a large step in eradicating all Korean stereotypes or the division between races, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

– Michelle Shin (’20)

 

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