Rachael Leigh Cook Fell in Love on the Set of Her Latest Rom-Com

A Tourist's Guide to Love takes laughs and love to Vietnam.

A Tourist's Guide to Love

Sasidis Sasisakulporn/Netflix

"What I knew about Vietnam is that I wanted to go and that I had Instagram envy of my friends' travel vacation photos there," Rachael Leigh Cook says, laughing, her signature gleaming smile on display. "I was excited to go."

Netflix's latest rom-com, A Tourist's Guide to Love, available to stream on Apr. 21, has the distinction of being the very first original film from the streaming giant to be made in Vietnam, a country that's not only becoming an Instagram favorite, but a place that's shedding a reputation marred by war and conflict. Instead of the Vietnam depicted in history books and grainy PBS documentaries, Cook — who produced A Tourist's Guide to Love in addition to starring in it — wanted to show the country in a new way and ensure that her trademark brand of joy, love, and laughs felt fresh.

And it wasn't just Cook that wanted to give viewers a peek into a country that still seems shrouded in mystery to many. Her co-star, Scott Ly (a first-generation Vietnamese American born in Houston, Texas), was just as excited to show the world the new Vietnam.

"The people, the taste of food," he says of what he wanted to showcase most. "But just to capture a little bit of how my parents lived is enough. I'm excited about that."

Cook agreed, saying that the pride that Ly felt as a Vietnamese American actor working on a project in Vietnam translated in the film, which chronicles Cook's character Amanda Riley as she navigates a business merger that involves Ly's Sinh Thach, whose family owns a local tour company. 

"When your character Sinh is talking about, 'I put so much pressure on myself to show the best possible version of Vietnam,' I could tell in the way you delivered those lines that you were putting that same pressure on yourself to deliver through this movie," Cook says of Sinh's passion for showing every aspect of his Vietnam, from the crowded, colorful markets of Hồ Chí Minh City to the verdant rice paddies of Hà Giang. 

A Tourist's Guide to Love

Sasidis Sasisakulporn/Netflix

All the while, viewers get a look at Vietnam as it is now, something writer Eirene Donohue (the daughter of a Vietnamese mother and an American Naval officer) wanted to emphasize, telling Cinema Blend, "There are almost no American movies set in Vietnam that aren't about the trauma of war. It was really important to me to tell a story about life now. One that was full of joy and love and celebration. I wanted to change the conversation about Vietnam, to highlight it as a modern thriving country whose stories are worthy of being told."

Viewers familiar with the Vietnam of Anthony Bourdain documentaries will find plenty to love — something that Cook recalls with utter joy in her eyes. 

"My favorite food that I haven't had as good a version of since I've been back is bánh xèo. I ate it every single day we were in Hoi An and Da Nang," she remembers. "That crispy pancake with the vegetables in it, sort of folded into a ... you fold it in thirds. And then, it has beautiful dipping sauces. I'm still hungry thinking about it."

Food is one way to bring an audience in, but the distinct style and fashion of Vietnam got the spotlight, too. In one pivotal scene involving a Tết celebration, Cook wears a traditional áo dài. 

"Oh my gosh. It is stunning. I tried to steal it. They definitely did not let me. It was beautifully made in collaboration with our costume designer, in terms of the color scheme and fabrics, but it was made by a local artist," she says of wearing an áo dài for the first time. "They did an absolutely beautiful job. How incredible is it that you can have the effect of wearing a dress but also be able to wear pants? And it is infinitely flattering." 

A Tourist's Guide to Love

Sasidis Sasisakulporn/Netflix

That blend of tradition and modernity is something A Tourist's Guide to Love highlights throughout, not only with áo dài and food, but simply by showing places like the Hội An waterfront illuminated by the city's trademark lanterns and a temple instead of the Golden Hand Bridge in Ba Na Hills. Sure, it's something most people visiting would want to see, but the film makes it a point to show things off the beaten path, away from the strict itineraries and "must-see" lists that Cook's character can't seem to get away from.

"We wanted to give people a real variety of experience within one country. And that's one of the natively incredible things about Vietnam is that you can have so many different experiences in one country," Cook says. "When we go from the bustling city life of Ho Chi Minh City to the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Hội An, to the beautiful beach of Da Nang. Then we went up to Hà Giang, by the border to China. We had that beautiful day by the waterfall that I'll never forget in my whole life. And then onto Hanoi, which has a completely different energy. It is so much quieter than Ho Chi Minh City. Man, we're lucky. We're so lucky."

Ly hopes that the film will encourage tourism of all kinds, much like the tour that his and Cook's characters take. "If people go to Vietnam, there are so many things to see, like what Rachael was saying," he says before giving a nod to his fictional vocation. "But if you get a tour guide that knows what they're doing, you'll really get to experience everything; the food, different culture, different places."

A Tourist's Guide to Love

Sasidis Sasisakulporn/Netflix

Aside from the travel aspect of the film, Cook gets to flex her rom-com chops once again. After 2020's Love, Guaranteed and 2021's He's All That, she's right back in the groove that fans have come to know and love — and loving it for herself, too.

"I can't seem to help myself. I can't stray too far from the genre. It keeps being where my heart feels at its center. It's where my sensibilities lie. It's where my personal tastes lie. It's positive, feel-good content," she says of staying true to herself and the genre that's given her so much. "And I love love. I don't know what to tell you. I feel really blessed that we get a twofer in the sense that it's a travel movie and it's a beautiful love story."

It's not often that a love story gets an interracial couple, something that Ly's very aware of — and something he's endlessly proud of. Not only is the film an opportunity for him to celebrate his heritage, but it also offers a chance for audiences to see that a leading man isn't necessarily just one kind of actor.

"When I was reading the script, I was like, 'This is a moment where I could actually really represent Asian men, Vietnamese men,'" he says of a particular shirtless beach scene that comes at 50 seconds into the trailer (for anyone wondering). "I trained so hard for it."

Although he was born in America, Ly reflects on going to Vietnam like children of immigrants often try to do. In fact, for many, making the trip is referred to as "di về," a term that hit Ly hard when he thought about how layered it was for him as a Vietnamese American actor.

"That means, in translation, going back home. And it means so much to me," he says of the phrase, which is used whether or not the person is, in fact, going home or just visiting. "One of the things I remembered when I was on the airplane and I touched down in Vietnam, it was like I rooted myself to where my parents came from. And that it was very emotional for me when I just landed. And then I was like, 'Let's go. I'm here to represent. I'm here to do my work. I'm blessed to be here.' It meant a lot to me. Hopefully, it shows in the movie and it shows in me."

Cook and Ly hope that the film prompts anyone planning a getaway to give Vietnam a chance — and the two think that the fictional itinerary would be great for real-life.

"Scott, do you think people will try to do the tour that we did? Like at all?" Cook asks her co-star between joking about rom-coms (Ly insists Dumb and Dumber counts as one and, shockingly, doesn't bring up She's All That even once).

"100%," Ly says confidently. "Of course."

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