We Need More AA+PI Rom-Coms!

A passionate book nerd weighs in on who she'd cast if her favorite books were made into movies

Words by Samantha Pak

Romantic comedies are making a comeback, and as a lover of the genre, I am all for the return of meet-cutes, miscommunication, and grand gestures.

Combine this with my bookworm tendencies, and it’s no surprise that I love romance novels. As representation on the bookshelf continues to (slowly) expand, we’re seeing more AA+PI love stories—which is great! With this in mind, and in celebration of Valentine’s Day, here are some romances featuring stories from the Asian and Pacific Islander diaspora that I would love to see hit the big screen, along with my dream casting for the roles of our lovers in question.

The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu (2021)

Chinese Cambodian American Jasmine Tran is working at her family’s struggling donut shop as she tries to figure out her life. Enter Alex Lai, her old college crush and the Chinese boyfriend of her parents’ dreams. But after a disastrous meet-the-parents dinner, things aren’t looking so good. Can Jasmine figure out how to make it work with Alex and save her family’s business?

Ellen Wong would be the perfect Jasmine. Not only is the Canadian actress also Chinese Cambodian, she understands the significance of donut shops in the Cambodian American community. For Alex, I see Riverdale alum and Shazam! superhero Ross Butler. He’s got that mix of maturity and youthfulness needed to forgive him when he messes things up with Jasmine. (True, they’re a little older than Jasmine and Alex in the book, but actors are always playing younger roles. Also, Asian don’t raisin, so they can pull it off!)

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna (2022)

As one of the few witches in the United Kingdom, British Indian Mika Moon hides her magic to stay safe—though that doesn’t stop her from “pretending” to be a witch on YouTube. But someone sees through her ruse and she receives a letter from a place called Nowhere House, asking her to teach three young witches how to control their magic. When she accepts the job, Mika meets Jamie, librarian and Nowhere House’s resident grump, who will do anything to protect the girls, and doesn’t trust Mika one bit. Will the two be able to put aside their differences to be there for their young charges—and maybe fall in love as well?

I envision a mini Bridgerton reunion with Simone Ashley and Jonathan Bailey as Mika and Jamie, respectively. As many saw, the two Brits are worthy adversaries, going toe-to-toe, before falling in love. We also saw their overprotective sides in the Netflix series as they did what they needed for their families. And that’s just what we need from this pair of adults taking care of a trio of young witches.

Partners in Crime by Alisha Rai (2022)

With a solid accounting career, good friends and distance between her and her dysfunctional family (how she likes it), Indian American Mira Patel’s life is fine. All she’s missing is a stable romantic relationship, and with her handy spreadsheet and the help of a professional matchmaker, she’s working on it. Then she bumps back into Naveen Desai, her very first match, who she dumped via text. With Naveen overseeing her late aunt’s estate, the plan is to keep things professional. But that all goes out the window when Mira’s past catches up with her and they’re kidnapped and then on the run from crime bosses in Las Vegas.

Charithra Chandran would be the perfect Mira. As we saw in Bridgerton like Mira, her character contained multitudes and there was more to her than meets the eye. As for Naveen, my pick is Utkarsh Ambudkar. The actor-slash-rapper is the perfect balance of cool and relatable. Also, as Jay on CBS’s Ghosts, in which he plays the husband to a woman who sees ghosts, but can’t see them himself, we already know he’s good at going with the flow. Which is exactly what we need from Naveen.

A Phở Love Story by Loan Le (2021)

Even though both Bảo Nguyễn’s and Linh Mai’s families own phở restaurants and they go to the same high school, the two Vietnamese American teens have rarely interacted. The family restaurants are competitors, located across the street from each other, and the families have been at odds with each other for as long as they can remember. But a chance encounter and school assignment brings them together and before we know it, sparks fly. But can they overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to even try having a relationship?

Anna Cathcart, who stole every scene in Netflix’s To All the Boys series (so much so, it’s spawned an upcoming spinoff series, XO, Kitty), is my pick for Linh, while Fresh Off the Boat’s middle (and underrated) brother, Forest Wheeler, is my pick for Bảo. The pair of them would make for an adorable fictional couple.

Simmer Down by Sarah Echavarre Smith (2020)

When Nikki DiMarco quits her dream job to help out at her mom’s Filipino food truck in Maui, she knew it wouldn’t be easy. But what she didn’t count on was Callum James, the good-looking British food truck owner, who’s set up shop next door and is stealing their customers. What follows, as each business vies for a coveted beach parking spot, is a public feud filled with pranks and some light sabotage (before they, of course, fall in love).

I would love to see Vanessa Hudgens, queen of the Netflix holiday rom-com universe, as Nikki, and find love during another time of year. In the Princess Switch series, we’ve already seen that she’s up for shenanigans, so I can see her having a lot of fun with this. As for Callum, my pick is Robert Pattinson. Even though he’s known for more serious, brooding roles (the Twilight series, Tenet, The Batman), he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously in real life and I want to see that on screen.

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto (2021)

After Meddelin Chan accidentally kills her blind date, her meddling mother and aunties try to help her get rid of the body. Easier said than done as the body is accidentally shipped to an over-the-top wedding Meddy and her Indonesian Chinese American family of wedding vendors are working. Throw in Nathan, the guy she let get away in college and things go from bad to worse. Will she be able to escape murder charges and get the guy?

Admittedly, this isn’t exactly a rom-com, but the story is hysterical and has a romance in it. Also, it’s already set to hit the small screen. This being said, I would love to see my favorite Disney princess, Kelly Marie Tran, as Meddy. She got her start at College Humor and it’s time she got another chance to flex those comedy muscles. For Nathan, I choose The Good Place’s resident himbo, Manny Jacinto—who does “seemingly clueless, but more aware than you realize” so well, which is what we learn about Nathan. Also, I’m seeking justice for Jacinto after he was shafted in Top Gun: Maverick. (And I want Meddy’s mom and aunties to be played by Lucy Liu, Michelle Yeoh, Sandra Oh, and Ming-Na Wen.)

Bidding for the Bachelor by Jackie Lau (2021)

The last thing novelist Cedric Fong needs is a date. But as the last single Fong brother, he’s voluntold to participate in a bachelor auction to benefit his family’s charity. The winning bid goes to notorious partier Brian Poon. On their Valentine’s date, it comes out that Cedric is in need of a place to live. So Brian offers him his spare bedroom and the two Chinese Canadians become roommates. What follows is a slow-burn, friends-to-lovers romance, with interfering relatives and overprotective siblings.

For Cedric, I see Vincent Rodriguez III (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). Rodriguez has spoken about how it took him a while to own who he is, which is just what we need in Cedric, who is well into his adulthood when he figures out who he is as a writer and a queer man. As for Brian, I envision Jake Choi (Single Parents), who has the charm and swagger needed for the former rich playboy, but also the sweetness as he starts falling for Cedric.

So Netflix, if you’re ever looking to build out your Valentine’s Day content and expand your rom-com cinematic universe, I’m your girl!

Published on February 14, 2023

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.