Moving Pictures
Jul 06, 2023, 06:27AM

Wanna Go for a Joy Ride?

Joy Ride is a very funny movie, but it doesn't stray from tradition or formula.

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We’re on a run of late of movies that combine specific exploration of Asian-American identity with established cinematic genres. We’ve had that in a metaverse adventure (the Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once), a romantic drama (last month’s Past Lives, as well as the upcoming Shortcomings.) Now, with Joy Ride, it’s a raunchy, female-led comedy in the tradition of Girl’s Trip. There will be some who denounce that sort of thing as “woke,” but all four of those movies are good.

Joy Ride is the directorial debut of Crazy Rich Asians screenwriter Adele Lim, working from a script by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, both of whom are veterans of Family Guy; Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg are the producers. Joy Ride is a very funny film, although it doesn’t stray far from the Hollywood tradition, last seen two weeks ago in No Hard Feelings, of an R-rated comedy combining raunch with lots of lessons and heart.

The plot of Joy Ride consists of four Asian-Americans who take a trip to China and South Korea, getting into raunchy adventures along the way. The film allegedly had the working title The Joy Fuck Club, which was much better.

Audrey (Ashley Park from Emily in Paris) and Lolo (Sherry Cola, also of Shortcomings), are lifelong best friends who grew up as the only Asian-American girls in their small town. Lolo has Asian parents, while Audrey was adopted by a white couple; Lolo’s a semi-employed erotic sculptor, and Audrey’s a high-powered lawyer.

When Audrey’s sent to China on a business trip, she brings Lolo along as her translator. Later, they meet up with Kat (Everything Everywhere’s great Stephanie Hsu), Audrey’s college roommate who’s become a movie star in China; Kat and Lolo soon clash, hilariously, with a strategically placed tattoo becoming a running joke. Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) is the fourth member of the quartet, a cousin of Lolo and a superfan of K-pop music.

Eventually, the business deal coincides with Audrey’s half-hearted search for her birth parents, and there are climactic lessons about everything from friendship to family to coming to terms with one’s identity. The plot has a lot in common with the acclaimed 2022 film Return to Seoul, although the tone’s very different.

But those lessons come after some complex comedic set pieces, with a hotel sex extravaganza likely to become the film’s most memorable sequence. Baron Davis, the NBA player whose career ended over a decade ago, plays himself, or at least a version that continued his playing career in China instead of staying in the U.S. and becoming a movie producer. There’s also a wonderful slapstick sequence, aboard a train.

It’s “Deadeye’s story that’s the film’s one big misstep. The plot builds towards the character coming out as nonbinary, but this is never vocalized, and therefore 90 percent of the character’s arc is instead about their obsession with K-pop, which leads to little comedic fruit aside from a scene (shown on the film’s poster) in which the quartet has to imitate a K-pop band. In the montage sequence where the other three main characters are having sex with different people, Deadeye’s dancing in a hotel lobby.

For many reasons, starting with the film’s overt sexuality, it wasn’t really filmed in China; most of the production took place in Western Canada. Judging by Erich Schwartzel’s excellent recent book Red Carpet, this film would never be filmed or shown in China, but it probably isn’t anti-China enough that CCP would retaliate against Lionsgate or any of the filmmakers or performers.


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