It’s fair to say that in her stand-up, Ali Wong pulls no punches. The fiery comedian uses her real-life experiences — everything from pregnancy to childbirth to… afterbirth — to fuel her raucous sets, most notably her two back-to-back Netflix specials: Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife. In the, Wong lovingly teases her husband, Justin Hakuta, about everything from being a fellow “half-jungle Asian” to how he tricked and “trapped” her into marrying him with his Harvard Business School degree.
But Wong’s much-anticipated Netflix rom-com, Always Be My Maybe, doesn’t boast the same level of nonfiction narrative that her stand-up does, even though viewers will no doubt spend some time guessing which bits are based on a true story. Spoiler alert: very little. (Except for the backseat sex scene, which Wong’s costar Randall Park recently admitted was loosely based on his own experience. Or, in his words, “The actual story … came from … elements … of an experience … that I had.”)
In the flick, Wong plays Sasha, one of L.A.’s most celebrated celebrity chefs, who also happens to be engaged to her backer/manager (Daniel Dae Kim), a man who seems more interested in his own image than actually supporting Sasha’s career. Wong hilariously admitted to Ellen DeGeneres that as one of the co-writers for the film, she made it a point to have her character “kiss a lot of sexy men.” (Park and Michael Golamco also lent their writing talents to the script.)
“I basically made Netflix spend all this money on a movie just so I could kiss Daniel Dae Kim and Keanu Reeves,” she joked.
In real life, Wong’s husband is not a backer/manager, but a businessman through and through, having worked (according to his LinkedIn page) at companies like DIRECTV, Cargomatic Inc., and most recently, GoodRx, a website and mobile app that helps track prescription drug prices and offers drug coupons for U.S. pharmacies. And if his Instagram is any indication, he is highly supportive of Wong, posting uncaptioned photos from her ongoing stand-up tour (and not much else). Wong posts about him frequently on her own Instagram, but opts to keep their kids' faces private.
For what it’s worth, Park’s character Marcus isn’t exactly like Wong’s real-life husband either. In the movie, Marcus is depicted as a bit of a stunted adult, having never gone to college and living in his parents’ basement while working for his dad. (Hakuta, on the other hand, got degrees at Carnegie Mellon and Harvard, a fact that is the premise of a lot of Wong’s comedy about wanting to “lie down” and not “lean in.”)
Wong’s real-life family is vastly different from the one depicted on-screen as well — in Always, Sasha’s parents are Vietnamese immigrants who ran a convenience store and were hardly ever home (hence why latchkey kid Sasha spent a lot of time over at Marcus’s home). Wong’s real-life parents, however, were a lot more hands-on, given that she was raised in the affluent Pacific Heights neighborhood in San Francisco by a Vietnamese immigrant mother, Tam Wong (below with Ali's mother-in-law), and an American-born anesthesiologist father, Adolphus Wong, who died in 2011 from cancer.
Of note is the fact that because Adolphus was born and raised in San Francisco, he didn’t speak with an accent; Park’s on-screen father speaks accent-free as well, a subtle but important way to call out Hollywood stereotypes. “Not that an accent is bad,” Wong told the New York Times, “but it’s like, of course. To me, his dad is on of my favorite parts of our movie. He’s cool, he’s a friend, he’s grounded. It feels real.”