"If you do not know where you come from, how do you know who you are?"
This is the question that Audrey Sullivan (Ashley Park) wrestles with in Joy Ride, which follows four Asian-American women as they bond and discover the truth of what it means to know and love who you are while on a hilariously chaotic journey.
Directed by the incredibly talented Adele Lim (who you'll no doubt recognise from her work on Crazy Rich Asians and Raya And The Last Dragon), Joy Ride starts where most immigrant stories begin — with some good old-fashioned, racist childhood bullying.
Audrey, who has been adopted by a white family, is paired up with Lolo (Sherry Cola), the only other Asian kid in the neighbourhood. Immediately after heading to the playground, they're both called a racist slur by a young, white boy — which leads to Lolo, the unapologetic queen that she is, punching him square in the face.
Fast forward to the present day and we can see how clearly this interaction (and perhaps the countless others like it that we didn't see) shaped both Audrey and Lolo as adults.
Although Lolo is both a struggling artist and a hot mess, she knows exactly who she is — and she doesn't apologise for it. Meanwhile, Audrey is as whitewashed as you can get. She has never dated another Asian, she almost exclusively listens to music by white musicians and she brushes off the racist actions of her predominantly white male colleagues (who swear that they're allies, but would absolutely say something like "You Asians all look the same!")
It's easy to judge Audrey, but her story is incredibly relatable for people of colour attempting to fit into places that want nothing to do with them. We change our look, we learn to take everything as a joke and we work harder than everyone else to ensure that we're taken seriously.
Once you've been made to feel like an outsider, that feeling never truly goes away. In Audrey's case, it led to her being stuck in the exhausting and never-ending cycle of trying to prove herself — which culminates in an all-important business trip to China.
To ensure that the business trip is a success, Audrey enlists the help of Lolo, her college friend-turned-Chinese-soap star Kat (Stephanie Hsu) and Lolo's eccentric cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) — and let me tell you right now that this is a comedic ensemble made in heaven.
Things obviously don't go to plan (no spoilers, but it involves a combination of thousand-year-old egg shots, a stash of illegal drugs, a traditional drinking game and things being shoved up where things shouldn't go), leading to Audrey, Lolo, Kat and Deadeye being stranded in the middle of rural China.
Exposed to the beauty of the countryside, Audrey decides to embrace her cultural roots for the first time in her life and discovers how much this once-foreign country feels like home.
Alongside rediscovering her cultural identity, she finds a new meaning for "family" in the form of Lola's grandparents and relatives in Haiqing — who bombard her with food, drinks, warmth and feelings of belonging.
This is something that Audrey has craved her entire life — and being in China makes her reflect on what could have been if she had grown up there. She could have simply been a nice girl or a smart girl — not this perfect Western entity she created in order to belong.
But just when Audrey plucks up the courage to finally seek out her birth mother, she uncovers another life-altering snag that challenges her understanding of who she is and where she comes from.
Ultimately, Joy Ride is just that — it's a joyous, often chaotic-filled ride and exploration of cultural identity that will hit home for Asians. But the reason I love this film is because it tackles hard-hitting questions of identity and belonging without sacrificing the comedic aspects. Joy Ride is downright hilarious and even boasts a raunchy K-pop-inspired rendition of Cardi B's "WAP".
Plus, Joy Ride has an all-star Asian cast — but doesn't make being Asian the only element of their characters' personalities. Rather, it leans into their individual identities to craft a story that's both hilariously relatable and incredibly insightful of the varying experiences Asians have had while growing up in Western countries.
The film even playfully breaks down the Hollywood narrative of Asian men being undesirable through some incredibly spicy scenes featuring Desmond Chiam, Alexander Hodge, Chris Pang and Rohan Arora — and I am very much here for it.
Joy Ride represents a new era in diverse cinematic storytelling — and I urge you to watch it for that very reason. It's not only ridiculously funny, but it's so incredibly important that we have authentic stories that speak to the Asian experience like this.
Joy Ride is out in Australian cinemas now and will be released on July 7 in the US!