Director – Adele Lim – 2023 – US – Cert. 15 – 95m
A Chinese-American corporate lawyer visiting China to close a business deal for her boss finds herself on a road trip with three friends which turns into a search for her birth mother – raunchy, gross-out comedy is out in UK cinemas on Friday, August 4th
TL;DR: good fun and occasionally hilarious – provided you don’t watch the trailer first.
White Hills, Seattle. Little girl Audrey Sullivan (Lennon Yee), a Chinese adoptee with white parents, hits it off with new girl in town of the same age Lolo Chen (Chloe Pun) when at a local playground, the latter sees off a white racist boy bully on her behalf. Growing up, the pair become inseparable, yet they are very different characters, with Audrey being the school yearbook’s “most likely to succeed” while Lolo is “most likely to be arrested”. Five minutes into the film, Audrey (Ashley Park) is a highly regarded and highly paid corporate lawyer on the verge of being while Lolo (Sherry Cola) is a struggling artist making sex-positive art (i.e. it centres around representations of male and female genitalia). Audrey is letting the impoverished Lolo stay at her upmarket house.
When Audrey is sent to China to negotiate with a major Chinese client, with the promise of being made a partner in her firm if she can close the deal, it rapidly turns into an excuse for her and Lolo to take a road trip across China and discover their roots. They are joined first by Lolo’s disconcertingly withdrawn cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) and then, in China itself, by Audrey’s former college room-mate Kat (Stephanie Hsu) who is now a major Chinese screen star playing in romantic, historical TV serials.
Thus, the stage is set for what is essentially a Chinese-American, female buddy movie. That doesn’t really do the film justice, though, as it’s a comedy, and a hugely likeable one at that. Albeit one not for the faint-hearted.
Taking a cue from its opening seconds in which Lolo’s mother delivers one of the funniest and most acerbic lines of dialogue I have ever heard, the words given to the actresses to speak are razor sharp, frequently sexually explicit and often very funny. The comedy is far more than verbal, though, with the road movie format serving as an excuse to put the foursome through one cleverly conceived, comic situation after another, often to hilarious effect.
At this point, I find myself hesitant to say more, because many of the funniest moments owe so much to not knowing what’s coming in advance. The film trades in the element of the surprise, of the unexpected. As soon as you reveal more upfront, the funniest things in the film will be ruined for you. That makes it a difficult film to sell without spoiling it for the audience. Witness the trailer – or rather, don’t, because (leaving aside that opening line) it contains all the film’s funniest moments. The trailer is very funny and makes you want to see the film, but ironically by showing you all the best bits in advance, it makes the film feel a bit of a damp squib by comparison.
First time director Lim, whose prior credits include the screenplays for animated adventure Raya And The Last Dragon (Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Paul Briggs, John Ripa, 2021) and live action comedy Crazy Rich Asians (John M. Chu, 2018) keeps the proceedings moving along at a good pace, never allowing this particular ride to become boring. And it’s refreshing to see a US comedy centred not on white women but Asians. In the final reel, the comedy temporarily gives way to something much more serious to do with Audrey’s search for her birth mother, briefly echoing the very different French movie Return To Seoul (Davy Chou, 2022).
It probably isn’t giving anything away to reveal that Chinese star Kat, remembered as promiscuous by Audrey from their college days, is now playing the good girl for her Christian boyfriend Clarence (Desmond Chiam) who is saving himself for marriage, clearly a set up destined for disaster. One thing’s for sure: you’ll never be able to hear the iconic line “I tawt I taw a puddy tat” with quite the same level of innocence ever again. Overall, then, this enjoyable enough romp is also very funny in places, provided you don’t watch the spoiler-filled trailer first. Sex, drugs and K-pop.
Joy Ride is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, August 4th.
Trailer (gives away most of the funniest bits – don’t say you weren’t warned):