Adele Lim’s Risqué Debut – SXSW – Deadline

Adele Lim’s debut film, Joy Ridewill make you cry your eyes out, in addition to showing audiences that women know how to party hard.

Written by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong & Teresa Hsiao, the film stars Ashley Park, Stephanie Hsu, Sherry Cola and Sabrina Wu as four friends on a global adventure of self-discovery – but also drugs, sex and comedy. I expected nothing less from a film originally titled Joy F**k Clubwhich I think is funny.

Audrey (Park) is adopted, growing up in an all-white household, and Lolo’s (Cola) parents have just moved from China. Their friendship starts on the playground when Audrey is accosted by a bully and Lolo punches him in the face.

As adults, one is now an overachieving workaholic lawyer on the verge of a promotion, and the other is a slacker artist who makes art out of human private parts, looking to sell his works to the highest bidder. Audrey flies to China to close a deal with a big client, and at her going away party, Lolo suggests she find her in China while she’s there.

As they prepare to leave, Deadeye (Wu), Lolo’s cousin, comes along. The last person to join this group is Audrey’s old college friend and current Chinese TV star, Kat (Hsu), because she speaks the language fluently.

On a night out with this potential client, the girls drink themselves into a stupor, play fighting games, drink millennial egg shots, and throw up all over the place. Things that would normally bother a businessman didn’t phase him. What set off alarm bells is that Audrey didn’t seem like an ‘authentic’ Asian. To prove this authenticity, the young lawyer must demonstrate some kind of connection to the legacy, otherwise it’s no deal. Lolo exclaims that her friend is looking for his biological mother while he’s there, so he agrees to sign the deal when he meets her mother. Oops!

Many will see Joy Ride as an X-rated comedy. But at the heart of it is a story about identity and belonging. Audrey is looking for answers because until now she hasn’t explored what it means to be a transracial adoptee.

Although her friends don’t understand what this means either, the group creates space for Audrey to process these new feelings. These are some of the best friends she could ask for because not only do they support the journey, they consistently check her internalized racism and model minority-isms.

Growing up with white parents has made Audrey accept racism in order to assimilate at work. She doesn’t know how to speak her native language (to be fair, many Americanized people don’t), and thinks White is right (based on the choices she makes in the train scene).

She is unaware of the problems this behavior has on her self-esteem and how it projects onto others. Lolo, Kat and Deadeye eventually tire of the antics and let their friend have it, and that’s when things finally click for her – but at what cost? Joy Ride is super fast but also deeply introspective, holding its characters accountable for their actions. I laughed at jokes about vagina tattoos and cried when I watched Audrey find out more about her past life. It does well to mix comedy, drama and commentary in a coherent way.

In his first outing as a feature director, Lim gets a surprisingly large cinematic and creative leeway. Paul Yee’s direction and cinematography allow the audience to connect with these relatable characters.

Filming across Asia can’t be easy, but the director commands every shot with tireless zeal, as there is none of that first-time director hesitation in her work. She believes in the story and its execution – which is essential to the artistry, especially with a multi-million dollar property being shot in international locations.

Joy Ride is about the Asian experience, but also has something for everyone. I would have enjoyed seeing more of Audrey’s struggle as I discovered information about her mother, and I also found parts of the ending to be rushed. But the script is confident, the direction is dynamic and the cast is sensational. Props to Chevapravatdumrong, Hsiao and Lim for knowing when to have fun and knowing when to be serious. It’s a difficult balance to find, but they do it effortlessly. What a joy to ride!

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