When it comes to movies, I’m a genre dude. There hasn’t been a genre invented that I don’t love. Comedy, romance, sci-fi, action, horror, musical, noir, neo-noir — I’m pretty sure I’ve got a top ten favorite in each of these genres. Then there’s the genre mash-ups like rom-com, and more recently, the rom-com-foodie subgenre. What’s not to love about spending an hour-and-a-half smiling, feeling warm-and-fuzzy inside, and salivating over some good food porn? Eat Pray Love, Chocolat, and No Reservations are good examples of these easy-to-watch, entertaining delights that don’t make you think too hard and also whet your appetite. Thanks to Netflix, we can now add a new entry to the top of this list: Always Be My Maybe.


A “photo booth” style self-portrait of a very young couple looking directly at the camera and making funny faces. Photo by Netflix.Photo by Netflix.

Genre films have rules, and since Always Be My Maybe (2019) is technically a romantic-comedy, the filmmakers made sure all the usual rom-com boxes are checked: boy and girl meet, break up, get back together, and then there’s a happy ending. What uplifts any genre movie to a higher level is attention to genre details, expanding the boundaries of said genre, and slipping in knowing winks to genre fans that the film they’re watching is self-aware — especially when it pokes fun at its own genre.

One reason Always Be My Maybe works so well is that it excels on all levels. As a romantic movie, it works because of the magical chemistry of the leading actors (no wonder since Ali Wong and Randall Park are friends in real life and also co-wrote the screenplay, which is rumored to be somewhat autobiographical). Chemistry can’t be faked — either it’s there or it’s not — and in this film, it’s there in abundance.

As a comedy, Always Be My Maybe is a laugh-out-loud funny movie, which is rare. As they say, “Dying is easy; comedy is hard,” and I agree. So many supposedly funny movies fall flat due to the weight of their stupidity and poor timing, but what we have here is an abundance of smart satire and sharp wit with jokes and great one-liners.

 A close-up of a pot of stew boiling on the stove; the stew looks very red and is being stirred by an unseen cook. Photo by Netflix. Photo by Netflix.

As foodie porn, Always Be My Maybe works extremely well as we get to see an abundance of really good-looking ethnic food, my favorite kind. Since the film was set in today’s celebrity chef culture, the filmmakers made sure that the foodie world was skewered as well. One of the funniest scenes in the movie takes place at an ultra-pretentious trendy postmodern gourmet restaurant where dishes like venison sous vide and foam were served (for real, foam was a real molecular gastronomy trend in the 1990s popularized by Michelin-starred restaurants like El Bulli). In the spirit of humoring knowing foodies, the food served at this imaginary restaurant was ridiculously silly, the servers ridiculously snooty, and the decor and diners ridiculously pompous.

A still from the film Always Be My Maybe: Ali Wong and Keanu Reeves play a well-dressed couple on a date at a fancy restaurant. Photo by Netflix.Photo by Netflix.

Keanu Reeves played himself. As far as celebrity cameos go, Reeves' performance almost tops John Malkovich’s role in Being John Malkovich. It might even top Nicolas Cage’s performance in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. I have great admiration for actors who are not afraid to make fun of themselves, and Reeves does so with such glee that his scenes elevated this movie at least one notch higher on the comedy meter. Rumor has it that Reeves went off-script and improvised many of his best lines.

Always Be My Maybe is also a historically important milestone in the world of popular entertainment. If you’ve seen this movie, then you already know that it has a large Asian cast. Had I not mentioned that, it wouldn’t have mattered because this movie would have worked if it was set in Latin America, Europe, Africa, even Iceland. At its core, this is an American independent film at its best with a story that is universally authentic, a story that every living soul on this planet with a heart will be able to relate to.

Independently-produced Asian-centric films are all the rage these days, but unlike recent hits like Crazy Rich Asians and Everything Everywhere All the Time, casting Asians in Always Be My Maybe was not required, but it sure made the film better. For heightened comedic effect, the filmmakers made sure that every clichéd Asian trope was skewered in this film — including some that I was not aware of. According to the script writers, Asians like to cheat by acquiring handicapped parking permits just to get access to premium parking spaces; since I’m Asian, maybe it’s kosher for me to join in on that scam as well — after all, my left knee has been bothering me lately.

So after a tasty feel-good movie like this, where does one go for dinner? The words comfort food came to mind, followed immediately by four more words: all-you-can-eat. We opted for Masijta Grill where they offer an all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue feast. 

The front entrance of a restaurant with “Masijta Grill” clearly visible on the sign. Photo by Paul Young.Photo by Paul Young.

Like most Korean restaurants, Masijta Grill's menu is vast. Despite the many items crossed out with a black magic marker, their edited menu still had 14 appetizers (including pajun, a savory Korean-style pancake), 25+ stews and soups, nine hot pot entrees, six noodle dishes, several rice dishes (including bibimbap served in a hot stone bowl), and 23 entrees (including seafood, chicken, pork, lamb, and beef dishes like bulgogi, the world-renowned Korean marinated beef specialty).

We told the waitress we were here for the all-you-can-eat barbecue, but the menu has an a la carte Korean barbecue, which offers a wide selection of raw beef, pork, chicken, lamb, shrimp, squid, octopus, even beef tongue, and pork belly. Each a la carte item costs between $23 to $32 per person (with a minimum order of two items for each table), so if you’re hungry like we were, the bill can easily cross the $100 line without much effort. On the other hand, the unlimited option costs only $35 per person, but there is a limited choice of only four items (beef brisket, marinated pork, chicken, and pork belly).

 An image of a tabletop with two sauces and a plate of three vegetable side dishes. Photo by Paul Young.Photo by Paul Young.

As soon as the order was placed, a selection of vegetarian banchan (side dishes) were delivered along with two dipping sauces. We devoured the veggies immediately and then asked for more. Kimchi is usually included as a side dish, but today we also got some pickled daikon and a much subtler bean sprout salad.

An image of an empty tabletop grill heating up. Photo by Paul Young.Photo by Paul Young.

Next came the grill itself, and the server promptly turned on the electric stove on high to prepare for what’s to come next.

 An image of a large platter with four different kinds of raw meat with a pair of large scissors visible. Photo by Paul Young.Photo by Paul Young.

As promised, a platter of four raw meat items were delivered next, and the server started the cooking process for us by filling the grill with thinly sliced beef brisket and chunks of pork belly cut with scissors.

An image of a tabletop grill cooking two different kinds of meat. Photo by Paul Young.Photo by Paul Young.

Even without any seasoning, the smell and sound of meat searing started to whet our (already very large) appetites. As the meat started to look half-cooked, we eagerly turned the meat over and stared at the grill impatiently waiting for our first bite to be ready. As the meat started to char, we quickly grabbed the first cooked pieces with our chopsticks and rushed them into our mouths without any hesitation — even though they were a little too hot to eat.

A close-up of a piece of cooked meat wrapped in a lettuce leaf being held by a person’s hand. Photo by Marcus Flinn.Photo by Marcus Flinn.

After a few more bites, we slowed down. Instead of grill-to-mouth action, we did a lettuce wrap and added a little slatter of hot sauce. Every bite became a little tastier.

[ Another image of a tabletop grill with two different kinds of meat being cooked. Photo by Paul Young.Photo by Paul Young.

Chicken and marinated pork went on the grill next, each evoking different taste buds in my mouth that together created a symphony of flavors. Sometimes, we skipped the lettuce and instead put the meat right on top of our rice bowls before slurping it up noisily with a mouthful of rice.

Without having to ask, the waitress knew we would want more, and she asked us what we liked the most. Pork belly was my answer. I liked these juicy and fatty morsels. 

[ Another close-up of raw meat on a grill being cooked. Photo by Paul Young.Photo by Paul Young.

For my partner, the marinated pork was the winner. Coated with a sweet and tangy sauce and mixed with onion slices, these slivers of pork were a delight.

An overhead shot of a dirty table with many empty plates, leftover bites, and a dirty grill. Photo by Paul Young.Photo by Paul Young.

We were hungry enough for a third serving, and we devoured every bite, demanding even more side dishes to round out the meal. When we were done, we saw what a mess we made and felt sorry for the dishwasher who had to scrub off the charred remnants on the grill.

Even though our meal totalled $120 for two (including two bottles of soju, tax, and tip), we were very satisfied and felt what we got was a good value. Although the menu specifically stated that there is a two-hour time limit for the all-you-can-eat deal, we didn't feel rushed in any way. Another cover-your-ass statement on the menu clearly stated that if meat was not eaten, customers will be charged extra. We didn’t have this problem because everything tasted so good, we savored every last bite.

Lastly, do pay attention to this little detail: they will add 18% gratuity to your bill when you order the unlimited option, so be careful when you pay the bill to avoid accidentally tipping twice.

Always Be My Maybe is currently streaming on Netflix. If you like Ali Wong, Netflix is also currently streaming three of her comedy specials.

Masijta Grill
202 N Race St
Urbana
Su-W 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Th-Sa 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

When he is not watching one film a day, Paul Young likes to travel the world seeking good things to eat. So far, he has eaten his way through 25 countries and he loves to share his culinary discoveries with cooking classes.

Top image by Paul Young.