Lush Vietnam Is the Star of A Tourist’s Guide to Love

Image by Sasidis Sasisakulporn for Netflix

In 2022, for the fourth time in five years, the country of Vietnam was named “Asia’s Leading Destination” by the World Travel Awards. Because of that stunning chosen locale, A Tourist’s Guide to Love is the kind of movie that could easily dazzle an audience on mute alone. On a purely surface level, all the Netflix movie needed to do was keep the cameras on the luscious places and attractive actors. Benefited by the country’s many sounds and an appealing maidenly romance transpiring, A Tourist’s Guide to Love plays just fine with the sound on as well.

Former teen star Rachael Leigh Cook leads A Tourist’s Guide to Love as Los Angeles-based Tourista travel executive Amanda Riley. She is swirling in disappointment from a sudden breakup with her accountant boyfriend (Superstore’s Ben Feldman) of five years. Sensing that her partner needs a getaway boost, Amanda’s assertive boss (comedienne Missy Pyle) assigns Amanda to be her eyes and ears in Vietnam to scout Saigon Silver Star, a small family-owned tour service that Tourista is looking to purchase. To do so with business in mind, Amanda embarks as an undercover “secret shopper” member of a vacation group and brings her own well-researched itinerary.

Two women check a computer screen in A Tourist's Guide to Love.
Image by Sasidis Sasisakulporn for Netflix

The Saigon Silver Star tour groups are run by a two-person team of cousins—Anh and Sinh. The former (Thanh Truc of My Mr. Wife) is the entertaining driver while the latter (TV actor Scott Ly, making his feature film debut) is the mouthpiece and man-with-the-plan. With an aim-to-please and resourceful local connections, the semi-Americanized Sinh favors an experiential route through his native country, and Amanda’s group will be there to celebrate the important lunar new year and spring festival holiday of Tết.

As soon as Sinh sees Amanda armed with her itinerary and guidebook, he teases her to put them away for fear of looking like a tourist. Amusingly, the very organized and persnickety Amanda sees herself as exactly that. The smooth Sinh wants her to be more than a tourist with his stellar two-sentence line of “Tourists want to escape life. Travelers want to experience it.” The handsome man is dead right and his savvy candor turns Amanda’s head. Moreover, those lines from A Tourist’s Guide to Love should be everyone’s vacation mantra, no matter the length or distance of the trip.

A man and woman touch arms on a bike tour.
Image by Sasidis Sasisakulporn for Netflix

Sinh continues his inspiring challenges to the square Amanda with the notion of travel taking one out of their comfort zone. Regular tourist sites are merely checkboxes. Going off the beaten path to more genuine or exotic places immerses a traveler in the hosting culture, from the food and language to the traditions and families themselves. The more foreign, the better when it comes to an impactful new experience. Sure enough, Amanda is changing her life with every turn of this trip. Is it really that easy? You know, sometimes it is? Let it happen.

It doesn’t take a heady film viewer to see the convenient parallels between the goals of travel and the matters of romance in A Tourist’s Guide to Love, especially with the overarching New Year setting happily nudging characters to try new things. Quite clearly, there are different immersive paths to finding love and potential activities and matches that go against someone’s usual limitations and preferences. Cobra Kai TV director Steven K. Tsuchida and screenwriter Eirene Donohue (whose last three screenplays were TV Christmas movies) patiently allowed a level of adult maturity for its path to bring its obvious on-screen couple together.

A woman looks over an ancient place of worship in A Tourist's Guide to Love
Image by Sasidis Sasisakulporn for Netflix

Probably the simplest test for a romance is whether viewers can root for the potential partners at hand. A Tourist Guide to Love offers a quaint and affirmative response to that challenge. Rachael Leigh Cook, 25 years after dropping jaws in She’s All That, burrows her career woman Amanda Riley in an easily flustered shell of mild anxieties that grate slightly. Yet, when necessary, Rachael’s winning smile and strong gaze bring Amanda forward when her knees (and shell) weaken. 

Aside from a welcome scene of him emerging from the ocean wet and shirtless, Scott Ly’s Sinh could have very easily been reduced to being a live-action, Vietnamese version of the “Brazilian Helicopter Pilot” thirst trap memory from Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out. Instead, Sinh is granted the behavior of a gentleman and a virtuous passion for profession that make him more than a vacation play-thing. Let this fresh face get more roles and chances in whatever country you put him in.

A man leans forward to light an incense stick next to a woman.
Image by Sasidis Sasisakulporn for Netflix

In different hands and with weaker goals, A Tourist’s Guide to Love would be a hot-and-steamy romp of debauchery in a hot-and-steamy country. There’s certainly a place for that in the streaming scroll for the Netflix-and-Chill crowd. Alternatively, there’s a place for cuddly chasteness too. A Tourist’s Guide to Love respects its characters, its audience, and its cultural depictions with more tact and nobility than the norm, giving us a refreshing and relaxing PG-rated romantic drama.

Before this review ends, Vietnam deserves our appreciation. Remember, all cinematographer Jon Keng (Little Big Women) had to do for the first Netflix original film shot in Vietnam was turn the camera on and let the urban and rural vistas from location manager Luke Harrison Ford do the rest for us as a cinematic travelogue. Keng’s drone work for establishing shots, street-level mobility, and wide lens for vibrant color show off the biggest star of A Tourist’s Guide to Love. If you didn’t investigate travel prices, destination names, or a recipe or two after watching this movie, more than the romance flew over your head.

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing here on Film Obsessive as the Editor-in-Chief and Content Supervisor for the film department. He also writes for his own website, Every Movie Has a Lesson. Don is one of the hosts of the Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network and sponsored by Film Obsessive. As a school teacher by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Online Film Critics Society, North American Film Critics Association, International Film Society Critics Association, Internet Film Critics Society, Online Film and TV Association, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

Leave a Reply

Film Obsessive welcomes your comments. All submissions are moderated. Replies including personal attacks, spam, and other offensive remarks will not be published. Email addresses will not be visible on published comments.

Ed Sr. peeks through wooden slats of a shed to the lighted outdoors.

The Mutilator Slashes Its Way Home Thanks to Arrow Video

A shot of the beach from Greta Gerwig's Barbie (Warner Bros.)

2023 Summer Movie Preview: 20 Movies to be Excited About