Christmas ShowsA

13 Binge-Worthy AAPI-Led Holiday Rom-Coms

Because you can never have too much Vanessa Hudgens!

Words by Samantha Pak

The holiday season is in full swing, and who are we to judge if your only coping mechanism is binging those saccharine, predictable seasonal rom-coms.

Like all fairy tales, historically these (mostly) TV movies have been populated pretty exclusively by straight, white characters, but thankfully some changes are afoot. Genre giants Hallmark and Lifetime are featuring more BIPOC and LGBTQ+ stories. And streaming companies such as Netflix and Hulu have started producing their own original holiday rom-coms with leads representing all backgrounds and orientations—because everyone deserves to fall in love, no matter how cheesy or tropey their journey to a holiday happily ever after may be.

Here are some of our favorite AAPI-led, holiday feel-good movies from the last few years to fall in love with this season:

A Hollywood Christmas (Dec. 1, HBO Max)

Jessika Van (check her out in the JoySauce series, Bulge Bracket here!) stars as Jessica, an up-and-coming filmmaker, making a name for herself directing Christmas movies. But that can all come to an end when Christopher (Josh Swickard), a (handsome, of course) network executive, shows up, threatening to stop the production of her latest film.

As a romance lover, I do appreciate a good antagonists-to-lovers story—and this has the makings for that. Plus, I love a good meta story where the characters are aware that they’re living out some sort of formulaic plotline.

A Big Fat Family Christmas (8/7c, Dec. 2, Hallmark Channel, streams for the following three days on Hallmark and Peacock)

As a photojournalist, Liv (Shannon Chan-Kent) wants to make it on her own. So when she gets a dream assignment—shooting the Chang family’s annual holiday party for a cover story—she takes it, but “forgets” to reveal that the Changs are actually her family. This all becomes a problem as she grows closer to Henry (Shannon Kook), who’s covering the story with her.

An assignment that could make or break the lead’s career? A potential workplace romance? A nosy and interfering mom (and possibly more relatives)? Sign me up! I’ll even ignore Liv’s (hopefully temporary) lack of journalism ethics for not disclosing her connection to her subjects!

Must Love Christmas (in theaters Dec. 2, 9/8c, Dec. 11, CBS and streaming on Paramount+)

Natalie (Liza Lapira), a renowned romance novelist famous for her Christmas-themed books finds herself snowbound in the small town of Cranberry Falls, and unexpectedly entangled in a love triangle with her childhood crush (Nathan Witte) and a reporter (Neal Bledsoe) trying to land an interview with her to save his dying magazine.

This has all the makings of a classic holiday romance. From the small-town setting and love triangle (I prefer the term “love corners” because the feelings typically only flow in one direction), to the possible second-chance romance and antagonists-to-lovers storyline. Also, with Natalie’s occupation as a romance writer, I’m eager to see if she deals with all of this as well as the characters she writes do.

Love Hard (2021, Netflix)

As a woman who’s been unlucky in love in Los Angeles, Natalie (Nina Dobrev) decides to cast a wider net, and ends up meeting—and falling for—Josh (Darren Barnet), a rugged guy from the East Coast, through a dating app. On a whim, she surprises him and shows up at his house for the holidays. What can go wrong? A lot, as it turns out. When she arrives, Natalie finds out she’s been catfished by the guy’s childhood friend, the real Josh (Jimmy O. Yang). So, by way of apology, Josh promises to help her win over Tag, the guy he’d been posing as, who also lives in town.

This is one of those movies where you’ve just got to throw logic out the window. Once you do this, Love Hard (so named for two great Christmas movies, Love Actually and Die Hard), is a good time. You’ve got love, romance, and shenanigans, and with Yang, Barnet, as well as Harry Shum Jr. and James Saito (who play Yang’s brother and father, respectively), a plethora of actors breaking the stereotype that Asian men are not desirable.

The Princess Switch trilogy: The Princess Switch (2018), The Princess Switch: Switched Again (2020) and The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star (2021) (Netflix)

No holiday rom-com list is complete without a little bit of Vanessa Hudgens—or in this case, a lot of Vanessa Hudgens. In this trilogy, the queen of the Netflix Holiday Movie Universe (as I’ve previously mentioned, it’s a thing!) plays not one, not two, but three leading roles: Lady (and eventually Queen) Margaret, Chicago baker turned Princess of Belgravia Stacy, and the thieving Lady Fiona Pembroke—opposite their respective love interests Kevin (Nick Sagar), Prince Edward Wyndham (Sam Palladio) and Peter Maxwell (Remy Hii).

Only in a holiday rom-com would it be plausible to meet two of your doppelgangers and proceed to trade places with each other for any number of reasons—from wanting time to yourself before big life changes, to time with one particular person before more big life changes, to a heist. And only in this genre would we watch people fall in love (with royalty, no less!) over the course of one holiday season and say, “Yeah, that’s believable.” But that’s the fun of the holiday rom-com! And here, Hudgens does it threefold, playing three completely different characters—and you know she had a good time doing it.

The Christmas With a Prince trilogy: Christmas With a Prince (2018, Netflix), Christmas With a Prince: Becoming Royal (2019, The Roku Channel, Amazon Prime, Redbox, Sling TV) and Christmas With a Prince: The Royal Baby (2021, Amazon Prime)

When Prince Alexander Cavalieri of St. Savarre (Nick Hounslow) breaks his leg in a skiing accident, pediatric specialist Tasha Miller (Kaitlyn Leeb) is forced to secretly house him on her floor while he recuperates. Needless to say, as a doctor focused on taking care of the kids in her ward, she’s pissed about having to deal with the spoiled royal. Thus begins Tasha and Alex’s journey toward happily ever after—complete with matchmaking relatives (on both sides), a conniving fortune-hunting princess, and eventual royal baby.

As Shakespeare put it, “the course of true love never did run smooth,” and in this trilogy, we see that even a royal romance doesn’t automatically mean a happy ending. Tasha and Alex have to work to make it work—something we rarely see in rom-coms after the credits roll. It’s always nice to see movies portray love and romance more realistically (though “realistic” is relative, Tasha did fall in love with a prince in just a few weeks).

Dash & Lily (2020, Netflix)

Even though holiday rom-coms typically come in the form of movies, here we have a delightful series, featuring Midori Francis as Lily and Austin Abrams as Dash—two New York City teens (because young people deserve to fall in love, too!) with very differing opinions about the holidays. She loves everything Christmas, while he hates all things red, green, and sparkly. Based on the YA novel, Dash & Lily's Book of Dares Book by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, we follow the pair after they meet through a notebook found in a bookstore and begin exchanging dares, challenges, and more, with each other.

Grumpy-sunshine—when one character is a grump, and the other is extremely (usually abnormally) cheerful—is one of my favorite romance tropes. Lily’s sunny disposition and Dash’s cynicism are quite the contrast, so it’s hard to see at first how they even fit as a couple. But we soon see that not only do opposites attract, but they actually help balance one another out.

A Sugar & Spice Holiday (2020, Lifetime, stream on YouTube)

After the death of her beloved grandmother, up-and-coming architect Suzie (Jacky Lai) is guilted into returning to her hometown in Maine to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and compete in the local gingerbread house competition. She ends up teaming up with her old high school friend, Billy (Tony Giroux), and of course sparks fly, hijinks, romance, and love ensue.

Returning to your hometown (especially being guilted into it) and falling for an old friend is peak holiday rom-com. And then there’s always the question of whether the returnee will decide to stay, or will they leave and be followed? Only time (in this case, about an hour and a half) will tell, my friends.

The Knight Before Christmas (2019, Netflix)

The one year Vanessa Hudgens wasn’t busy switching places with herself, she falls for a medieval knight from the 1300s (yes, you read that right). When Sir Cole Lyons of Norwich (Josh Whitehouse) finds himself displaced in a small town in modern-day Ohio, it’s up to Hudgens’ Brooke, who accidently hit Cole with her car and assumes he’s having memory issues, to help him acclimate to modern times (and find his way back home). Naturally along the way, the pair end up falling for each other.

Is this premise even more far-fetched than falling in love with a royal in a crazy-short amount of time? Absolutely! Do I care? Absolutely not! I fully suspend my disbelief and lean into it. Also, as another film in the Netflix Holiday Movie Universe, I (like many others) am just waiting for a Knight and Princess Switch crossover in which Brooke is the fourth doppelganger and more shenanigans ensue.

Published on December 1, 2022

Words by Samantha Pak

Samantha Pak (she/her) is an award-winning Cambodian American journalist from the Seattle area and assistant editor for JoySauce. She spends more time than she’ll admit shopping for books than actually reading them, and has made it her mission to show others how amazing Southeast Asian people are. Follow her on Twitter at @iam_sammi and on Instagram at @sammi.pak.

Art by Robinick Fernandez

Robinick Fernandez is a prolific and visionary creative director whose work blends the worlds of art, architecture, design, and fashion. For two decades Robinick Fernandez connected art with design for global brands, and his work has left an impact having navigated across many countries and cultures including Europe, Asia, the United States and beyond. For his next venture, he celebrates his Filipino American roots as Creative Director for JoySauce, being committed to cultural storytelling, sustainability, forward-thinking design, and conscious content .