All four girls debrief with tea after a crazy night.
Joy Ride. Photo Credit: Ed Araquel

‘Joy Ride’ Is the Irreverent Asian Party-Girl Comedy I’ve Been Waiting For

3.5/5, best WAP cover on the block.

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend where we lamented the fact that Crazy Rich Asians was touted as the ultimate “Asian movie” for so long. There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with it, but it’s hardly worthy of such a title—nor should it have to be! We came to a conclusion that seems relatively simple on paper, but Hollywood has seemingly taken a while to realize: There just needs to be more movies about Asians, for Asians, and there needs to be a wider variety so nothing “has” to be the pinnacle of some half-baked ideal of representation.

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And with so many studios trying to capitalize on this current “moment” of Asian American representation, it’s still pretty touch-and-go whether or not we’ll get the kind of film pool I’m looking for by the end of the decade. But I know, at the very least, that we’re on the right track, because we’ve got movies like Joy Ride being released.

I didn’t see a lot of press surrounding Joy Ride, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I went to its screening. Even now, I don’t know whether I can say I’d watch it again, at least on my own (it was much more fun watching it with someone else). But I do know that I’m glad it exists, and that it’s the kind of “Asian” movie I think we’ve been needing for a while: a crass and ridiculous romp that leans into cringe, and not with white sensibilities in mind.

Asian girls just wanna have fun, too!

Joy Ride is screenwriter Adele Lim’s directorial debut, after heavy involvement on both Raya and the Last Dragon and, coincidentally, Crazy Rich Asians. When I learned this, I wasn’t surprised, as the fun style and tone within both of those movies is present all throughout Joy Ride, yet it seems to come from a place of heightened authenticity. It’s also worth mentioning that the film’s lead writers are Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Theresa Hsiao, both comedy writers who’ve previously worked on the likes of Resident Alien and Nora From Queens respectively.

The story primarily centers around Audrey (Ashley Park), an Asian woman raised by two well-meaning white parents, who goes to China to close a work deal that will greatly benefit her career. She decides to take her childhood best friend, Lolo (Sherry Cola), who has always been the more free-spirited of the two. Lolo encourages Audrey to take this as an opportunity to find her birth mother, but Audrey is hesitant, as she struggles with how she fits into her identity. Joining the two are “Deadeye” (Sabrina Wu), Lolo’s K-Pop obsessed cousin, and Kat (Stephanie Hsu), Audrey’s college roommate who is now a famous actress in China.

Despite her best efforts, Audrey’s plans quickly fall apart from the get-go. Not only do Lolo and Kat seemingly hate each other, with Deadeye’s social awkwardness certainly not helping, but Audrey’s own alienation from her heritage keeps getting in her own way. She struggles to down a century-egg shot, she’s more trusting of a white drug dealer than other Asian people, and she consistently relies on her friends to translate for her, since she only speaks English. The resulting consequences are bombastic to the umpteenth degree, one such example being the tanking of Kat’s career when a certain tattoo “down there” is revealed on Lolo’s livestream.

And though some outlets are trying to pass this off as an “Asian Bridesmaids,” I ultimately find this to be a disingenuous, lazy comparison, because we’ve never seen such a raunchy movie for Asians, about Asians before. By nature, it’s more of its own thing, and though the humor isn’t entirely my style, I still think the film deserves credit for how it approaches its identity. It doesn’t shy away from aspects of its Asianness just because it fears white audiences won’t understand—it leans into them instead, which culminates in some of my favorite moments in the film. Audrey’s feelings of alienation are very, very real, and those kinds of feelings often go unexamined in media. The way these feelings are resolved, including how she resolves her missing family history, are pretty expertly written for a comedy.

Moreover, the other girls aren’t treated like gag side-characters. Lolo is given a lot of credence and authority as a fun-loving, loudmouthed party girl, even though I think the sheer amount of dick jokes she makes could have been toned-down. Kat’s attempt to reconcile her wild past with her “supposedly chaste-and-engaged” present is handled with both humor and humanism, when they could have just made her into another stereotypical “slutty”/”good-girl” Asian girl. And Deadeye? Oh, my sweet Deadeye. I love what they do with them. Deadeye is given their due, when most films would have written their kind of “awkward Asian nerd” character off as untouchable, and I love that.

As for the film’s humor … again, this kind of “dick pussy sex drugs teehee weehee” humor has never really been my thing, and I will admit, at times it feels a little awkwardly phoned in. That’s the only reason I’ve given this movie a 3.5 instead of a 4; I’m never opposed to a good vag joke, but too much of a good thing can be a little grating. However, the moments when its humor does land are truly delightful. There’s a mass sex scene during the middle of the movie that had me grinning from start to finish, not just because “Hell yeah, girls, get that bag,” but because it’s just so utterly wild.

More Asian movies like this, please

To conclude this review: No, Joy Ride did not gut me like Past Lives or Turning Red did. It did not make me weep and dissociate face-down on my pillow. But it never needed to. Asian Americans deserve to have films that diverge from the traditional formulas of either “gutting social commentary” or “aesthetically/comedically pleasing to white people.” We deserve silly, endearingly stupid movies, too. And dammit, Asian girls deserve their own Harold and Kumar, especially after all these years!

Even though the humor isn’t exactly my thing, I’m still excited about this movie, and I hope to see even more like it in the years to come. Deadeye 4 life.

(featured image: Lionsgate Films)


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Author
Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).