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Is There a Distinctly “Vancouver” Watch?
If you’re anything like me (that is, a sucker for rom-coms who happens to be Asian), you probably cleared your calendar this past Friday and counted down the seconds until you could run home from work to devour Always Be My Maybe, the Netflix rom-com starring Ali Wong and Randall Park as reunited friends Sasha Tran and Marcus Kim, respectively, that was practically willed into existence by the Internet. If you’re anything like me in another way (that is, a person who lives in Vancouver and has eyes), you also probably noticed a few familiar sights when you watched the film: the Vancouver Art Gallery, the stretch of Chinatown on East Pender Street between Columbia and Main, the Biltmore Cabaret.
The movie, which is part of a recent wave of cultural products that centres both Asian-Americans and the Asian-American experience, was filmed in Vancouver and San Francisco last year. The former stands in for parts of the latter, where the majority of Always Be My Maybe takes place, though keen-eyed Vancouverites should have no trouble identifying the spots that are actually located in Vancouver.
Because Always Be My Maybe marks an important moment in Asian representation—and because, well, why the eff not?—I decided to rank the best Vancouver-filmed scenes in the flick according to completely subjective metrics like how well the film location was used, how much the scene made me laugh or weep and the significance of the scene in the movie’s overarching plot. (For the purpose of this ranking, I only included scenes that were most recognizably Vancouver. So, sorry shots in nondescript interiors like Sasha’s luxury rental property, which is apparently a Russell Hollingsworth-designed mansion in West Van.) Warning: SPOILERS FOR ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE ABOUND.
We see David Hawksworth’s Nightingale in a number of scenes (and in various stages of fake completion) masquerading as Saintly Fare, Sasha’s soon-to-open “transdenominational” fusion restaurant in San Francisco. (But, girl, can we talk about that font choice for the logo?) For this ranking, I will call your attention to the first scene that takes place at the restaurant, mostly because we get Casey Wilson on our screens again (#JusticeForHappyEndings)—this time, as Chloe, a peppy interior designer who is obsessed with Gubi chairs.
The Jackson building at East Georgia Street and Jackson Avenue in Strathcona serves as the site of Marcus’s first apartment once he finally decides to move out from his childhood home, which he shared with his dad. “It’s small, but at least it’s shitty,” Marcus later says of his first abode. #Relatable.
Commercial Drive is featured only briefly in Always Be My Maybe, but it’s instantly recognizable thanks to the shot of Joe’s Cafe. We get the beginnings of Marcus and Sasha rekindling their friendship here, and the reintroduction of Marcus’s shitty Corolla, which is hilarious. Also, someone like Jenny (a dreadlocked hippie who believes in being married in a “spiritual” and “sexual” sense) would totally live off the Drive. Just sayin’.
If you’ve ever paid Yaletown’s Leisure Center a visit, you’ll know that the high-end boutique houses a lot of things. Among them? A café, a bookstore, a photography studio, a children’s play area and a whole ass 20-seat theatre. Oh, and threads from an assemblage of luxury labels. So it’s only natural that the spot stands in for a ritzy Tom Ford store in Always Be My Maybe, where an inspired and ready-to-win-his-girl-back Marcus is prepared to spend some hard-earned moolah on a snazzy, well-tailored suit. Except, erm, not really. Shout out to the elite spit take and A+ use of Luda’s “Pimpin’ All Over the World.” (The only other song I would’ve accepted here is Fergie’s “Glamorous”: “If you ain’t got no money, take your broke ass home!!!”—or to Suits n’ Stuff. Whatever.)
We’re introduced to adult Sasha at her award-winning “non-denominational Vietnamese fusion” restaurant, Knives and Mercy, which sharp-eyed Vancouverites will recognize as Glowbal at Telus Garden. This is definitely the kind of swanky environment where pan-Asian cuisine catering to white people would be served. (There isn’t a single chopstick being wielded at that craft beer-equipped bar.) We also get our first taste of Daniel Dae Kim, who is looking mighty fine as Brandon, Sasha’s douchey fiancé.
The opulent interiors of Vancouver’s storied Orpheum Theatre get the spotlight when Sasha brings Marcus (who’s woefully underdressed in an Angry Asian Man T) as her plus-one to a fancy charity event for the Bay Area Women’s Foundation. When the photographers ask her about Marcus, she calls him a “regular guy.” The comment irks Marcus and later plays a role in the demise of his and Sasha’s relationship.
The Biltmore Cabaret serves as Ragga, a dingy live-music club that three-quarters of Marcus’s high-school band, Hello Peril—a play on the term “yellow peril”—would desperately like to move on from so they can start playing larger venues like the across-the-town Southies. The scenes (there are three of ’em at the Bilt) get points for the mostly Asian extras (representative of both San Francisco and Vancouver’s population!) and giving us these absolute fire keeping-the-kids-hip-to-gentrification bars: “Welcome to the city that used to be free of suckers / Now the techies came in numbers and colonized the gutters. If I see another hipster opening a coffee shop / I’ll make a body drop with my signature karate chop.”
This was 100 percent filmed at some house in East Van. And it’s ranked here solely for giving us this gem of a comeback: “I hope you get malaria and shit yourself to death, you shitty piece of shit!!!”
After Sasha calls things off with Brandon in spectacular, profanity-filled fashion, she meets up with Marcus to let off some steam over dim sum at Best Luck Dim Sum, a.k.a. Vancouver’s New Town Bakery. Sasha and Marcus are really warming up to each other here (awkward hug and all), and Marcus gets to show off his Cantonese skills which earn him a complimentary basket of shumai from the lenglui behind the counter. “I learned,” he says. “Better service.” (TRUE.) We also get some lovely shots of Chinatown when the pair depart the restaurant. (Hellooo, 22 Knight bus!)
Marcus finally agrees to perform at Southies (actually the Roxy!) with Hello Peril, only to be so depressed from his breakup with Sasha that he gets wasted and pisses all over the stage. It’s not a pretty sight, but we do get a glimpse of Randall Park’s ass. (Also, an incident like this seems very on brand for the Roxy IRL??) So. Yeah. That explains this ranking.
This is the Grand Romantic Gesture, folks. The Lloyd-Dobler-holding-up-a-boombox, Patrick-Verona-singing-in-the-bleachers moment. And it takes place in šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ Square (outside the Vancouver Art Gallery), which has been transformed into the red-carpet entrance of some posh N.Y.C. venue for Food and Wine magazine’s fictional Visionary of the Year awards. (The square looks pretty sweet with the introduction of a few faerie-light-decorated trees!) When Sasha introduces her dates (her parents) to photographers, Marcus comes barreling out of the gaggle of flashing lights to proclaim his love for her. “Sasha Tran, can I hold your purse for you?” She says yes. And they kiss, obvs.
In the closing scenes of Always Be My Maybe, we see Autostrada’s Pender Street location transformed into Judy’s Way, Sasha’s latest restaurant concept. It’s a Korean restaurant in New York that serves hearty, homey foods (specifically, Marcus’s late mom, Judy’s, recipes for traditional Korean dishes like kimchi jjigae and bindaetteok) the way that Asian cuisine is meant to be enjoyed: in big-ass bowls. Later, business is booming. Sasha and Marcus embrace. Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” plays faintly in the background. “This is what I wanna do, Marcus,” Sasha tells him. “The kind of food that makes people feel at home. The way your mom always made me feel.” The moment is a callback to Sasha and Marcus’s childhood, to his culture, to the food that brought them together. And it’s bigger than any Grand Romantic Gesture. CUE THE WATERWORKS.