In the past few years, there has been a noticeable rise in Asian-led films and TV shows in Hollywood.
Adele Lim, who co-wrote Crazy Rich Asians, makes her feature directorial debut with the comedy Joy Ride, which at its core tells the story of four female Asian-American friends.
Ashley Park plays Audrey, a woman who was adopted as a baby from China by a white American couple and is now an overachieving lawyer in Seattle. She is tasked with going to Beijing to negotiate a deal with a Chinese company, but because she does not speak the language, brings along her wise-cracking Chinese childhood best friend Lolo (Sherry Cola).
Audrey and Lolo’s friendship began when they were young as they bonded over being the only Asian girls in their town. Lolo’s socially awkward cousin nicknamed Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) – who happens to have extensive K-pop knowledge – also tags along. Once in Beijing, they meet up with Audrey’s university roommate Kat (Stephanie Hsu), who is now a famous actress in China engaged to her handsome but deeply devout co-star.
Things start to go sideways when Lolo suggests Audrey look for her birth mother while they’re in the country. They accidentally end up in a train compartment with a drug smuggler and have their luggage, which contains all their passports, stolen.
A serious of hilarious events take place while they embark on the mission to find Audrey’s mother, including the girls pretending to be a K-pop band called Brownie Tuesday to get on a plane without their passports, because as Deadeye claims “you know who can bypass airport security? K-pop stars.”
I won’t spoil the rest, but despite the provocative antics the four leads go through to draw actual laugh out loud laughter, underneath it all, there’s still a really touching tale about self-acceptance and the power of female friendships.
Joy Ride is bound to draw parallels to other films of the same genre, such as The Hangover and Bridesmaids, but it deserves recognition on its own for being a well-done film that delves into themes such as Asian identity and family.
Audrey is Asian, but raised by white parents, and feels she belongs neither here or there. When the group is stranded in the countryside in China, she embraces her cultural roots for the first time. Staying with Lolo’s grandparents in Haiqing, Audrey finally feels a sense of belonging. She even says being in the country makes her wonder what her life could have been had like had she grown up in China instead of the US.
As a Chinese-American, I can resonate with Audrey because I have had similar feelings every time I visit Asia – wondering exactly who I could have been instead had I been surrounded by faces like mine rather than growing up in a predominately white town in Massachusetts. And while some people may not exactly understand how she feels, for those who do, scenes like this matter.
Some people may have issues with the pacing of the film, which starts off with unrestrained exploits but then towards the end gets a lot more serious, quickly as it gets closer to resolution. I personally enjoyed being able to laugh and then almost cry all within the span of 85 minutes. It is worth noting the film has been cut 10 minutes from its runtime.
Overall, the four leads are solid with their chemistry on screen, playing characters who are flawed but still trying their best. Everyone who watches will surely have their favourite.
Joy Ride may not feel like a film for everyone because of its mostly Asian-led cast and issues of identity, but looking at the bigger picture, it is still relatable for all.