Yakult and Scrunchies: ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ Lacked Some Korean Representation

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Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has taken the world by storm thanks to its recent release on Netflix. People worldwide are swooning over Peter Kavinsky’s crinkly little smile and Lara Jean’s epic wardrobe (scrunchie and all). But this isn’t just a great new rom com for viewers to sink their teeth into – it’s also an example of Asian representation on screen today.

From the outpouring of love on social media, it seems that readers liked the adaptation of the novel. There were great moments between the three sisters, and many readers loved the aesthetic of the movie, from Lara Jean’s outfits to her bedroom. Props have to be given to Jenny Han herself, who ensured that Lara Jean and her sisters Kitty and Margot were not whitewashed by production companies (as all but one company wanted to do) but were played by Asian actors.

However, this isn’t to say that the movie was perfect. I talked to @asteriajanvier, who wrote a fantastic thread on Twitter about the lack of Korean representation within the book. “Really, the only mentions of Korean culture were her dad’s attempt to cook Korean food (the name of the food wasn’t even specified), and the scene with the Korean yogurt drink. A big part of the book is the pride Lara Jean takes in being Korean, and I don’t think the fact that she has Korean heritage through her mother’s side was even specified once. I really wish some of the scenes in the book detailing the struggles of Asians, such as the scene where Lara Jean picks her Halloween costume, were included.”

@eggwardramen also believes that the casting could have been better, particularly in the case of Lana Condor, who is Vietnamese. “I wish they had actually gotten half-Korean actresses for the film, because personally that book was the first time I ever saw myself in a character,” @eggwardramen said in a direct message. “I’ve genuinely never had [sic] read or seen a mixed character in any media I consume before. It would’ve meant a lot if they had casted [sic] half-Korean actresses.” By not casting half-Korean actors, it implies that all Asians are interchangeable.

However, despite all this, viewers have ultimately seen the success of the film as a positive. Not only has it sparked a conversation about the casting of Asian actors, but it has also revealed to the film industry that movies featuring Asian characters can do well in the box office. The rom com has historically leaned towards the white and straight – and the success of YA book adaptations such as To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Love, Simon has clearly sent a message to the film industry that something about the genre needs to change.

With To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Crazy Rich Asians, what’s next for Asian representation on the big screen? When talking to @eggwardramen and @asteriajanvier, they mentioned a couple of potential book adaptations, such as The Epic Crush of Genie Lo and Pachinko. Here’s hoping that at least the other two books in Jenny Han’s series, P.S. I Still Love You and Always And Forever, Lara Jean, are adapted for Netflix too.

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