Adele Lim’s debut film, Joy Ridewill make you cry your eyes out and show the crowd that women know how to party hard.
Written by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and 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 an adventure of drugs, sex and comedy. I didn’t expect any less from a movie with the original title Joy F**k Clubwhich I think is funny.
Audrey (Park) is an adoptee growing up in an all-white household, and Lolo’s (Cola) parents just immigrated from China. Their friendship begins on the playground when Audrey is approached by a bully and Lolo punches him in the face.
As an adult, one is now an over-the-top workaholic lawyer on the verge of a promotion, and the other is a loose artist who makes art out of people’s private parts and wants to sell his work to the highest bidder. Audrey flies to China to close a deal with a big client, and at her going away party, Lolo suggests that he find her in China while she’s there.
As they prepare to leave, Deadeye (Wu), Lolo’s cousin, tags 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.
One night with this potential client, the girls get really drunk, play hit games, drink thousand-year eggnog, and throw up all over the place. Things that would normally bother a businessman didn’t affect him. The fact that Audrey didn’t seem like an “authentic” Asian set off alarm bells. To prove this authenticity, the young attorney must show some kind of connection to the legacy, or it’s not a deal. Lolo reveals that her friend is looking for her biological mother while there, so she agrees to sign the contract when she meets her mother. Oops!
Many see Joy Ride like an X-rated comedy. But at its core is a story about identity and belonging. Audrey is looking for answers because so far she hasn’t explored what transracial adoption means.
Even though her friends don’t understand what it means either, the group creates a space for Audrey to process these new feelings. These are some of the best friends he could ask for, as they not only support the journey, but also constantly check his internalized racism and model minorityisms.
Growing up with white parents has made Audrey accept racism in order to fit in at work. He can’t speak his native language (honestly, many American people don’t), and believes that the white man is right (based on the choices he made on the train).
He is oblivious to the problems this behavior has on his self-worth and how it reflects on others. Lolo, Kat and Deadeye finally get tired of the pranks and let their friend have it, and that’s when things finally click for him – but at what cost? Joy Ride is super-accelerated, but also deeply introspective and holds his characters accountable for their actions. I laughed at the vagina tattoo jokes and cried watching Audrey get more from her past. It’s good to combine comedy, drama and commentary in a unified way.
In his first role as a film director, Lim is given a surprising amount of cinematic and creative leeway. Paul Yee’s direction and cinematography allow the audience to connect with these relatable characters.
Filming all over Asia can’t be easy, but the director directs each shot with unrelenting enthusiasm, because for the first time, the director has no hesitation in his work. He believes in the story and its execution – which is essential to artistry, especially when shooting multi-million dollar properties in international locations.
Joy Ride tells about Asian experiences, but also contains something for everyone. I would have liked to see more of Audrey’s struggle as she discovers 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 when to be serious. It’s a difficult balance to find, but they do it effortlessly. What a joy to ride!