It was a film that broke down barriers. A romcom with an ensemble cast following the glamorous lives of the fabulously wealthy, but the difference – a big and important difference – was that the cast was Asian. 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians was a critical and commercial hit that took 21st century comedy in a new and welcome direction, so a sequel had to be on the cards. Didn’t it? After stalling for a number of reasons, development eventually started last summer, but the current strikes mean the brakes are on again. In the meantime, however, its writer, Adele Lim has turned director and brought us a variation on the theme – Joy Ride. Or, if you like, Crazy Young Asians.
And crazy they are, in the most appealing and, often, most hilarious way. For her first outing in the director’s chair, Lim has taken the familiar ensemble comedy format, but populated it with four young Asian women, all with decidedly different outlooks and ambitions. There’s Audrey (Ashley Park), a high-flying lawyer who is sent to China to close an important deal – the starting point for the film. Her childhood friend Lolo (Sherry Cola), whose paintings are graphic in the most literal sense, goes along for the ride, as does her cousin Vanessa, known to everybody as Deadeye (Sabrina Wu), an obsessed K-Pop fan. And in China, Audrey runs into her old college friend Kat (Everything Everywhere All At Once’s Stephanie Hsu), now an actress and about to get married. As the business deal goes wrong, the rest of the trip spirals out of control: a drug dealer, lost luggage, a basketball team and dressing up as a K-Pop band all come into it, but the main objective for Audrey is tracking down her long lost birth mother.
It all makes for 95 minutes of raunchy, no-holds-barred, energetic comedy where the laughs are non-stop and the eyebrows more than occasionally raised. That the film’s writers, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, met and worked together on TV’s Family Guy, comes as no surprise, given the wacky storyline with its jackknife twists. But that’s all part of the fun, as is the way the film delights in upturning stereotypes and viewing the Asian experience from a different perspective. This isn’t the immigrant experience that we’ve seen in shows like Fresh Off The Boat: the girls are second generation so, while they’re all connected to their culture, it’s to varying degrees. The airport scene where Lolo shows how to tell the difference between Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean and Chinese travellers is just one of a number of memorable moments – and one that relishes giving western attitudes a sharp dig in the ribs at the same time.
The quartet are miles away from the convention of sweet-natured, dutiful, passive Asian women but, once again, they show it in different ways. And the film’s investment in character is one of its greatest strengths: every one of our gang of four is well-rounded, the dynamics of their relationships with each other are nicely explored and, as an ensemble, their rapport and energy is on the nail. Stephanie Hsu shows that her performance in EEAAO wasn’t a one-off, having a ball as the actress who’s not the paragon of virtue she appears to be. There’s very little left to the imagination in the film’s ripe comedy, but it’s grounded in friendship and has more than enough to heart to give it the balance it needs. The film is – dare we say it? – a joy.
Comedy | UK cinemas, 4 August 2023 | Lionsgate | Cert:15 | Dir: Adele Lim | Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Sabrina Wu, Ronny Chieng and Daniel Dae Kim.