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Good thing I'm "fluid" in Chinese

by Vivien Whyte (she/her)

associate editor

I recently saw Joy Ride, directed by Adele Lim, and was completely captivated by the horny Asian girls going ballistic in their ‘homeland’. Genuinely a hoot from start to finish, the 95-minute film left me feeling exhilarated, but bleary-eyed.

Truly, Crazy Rich Asians walked so Joy Ride could run. Kids nowadays will never be able to grasp just how blessed they are to have that sort of representation in mainstream cinema. The fun sort, where we can all laugh at the all-Asian girl squad for totally normal reasons. The sexy sort, where they’re in touch with their sexuality and sex drive, and not in the oriental-maiden way. The diverse sort, where we see a myriad of different diasporic Asian identities interact with both each other and their ‘homeland’. The type of representation where we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously – it’s just fun!

Without giving too much away, Ashley Park plays an ambitious lawyer who’s knee-deep in the merciless corporate bloodbath and is about to embark on a business trip to China. Having been adopted from China by a white American family, she speaks no Chinese but has promised her boss (who is an ally, by the way) to secure the deal with the prospect of making partner on the line. She takes along her Chinese-speaking, sex-positive artist friend, Lolo, and they are shortly joined by K-pop enthusiast, Deadeye, and Chinese-drama actress, Kat. The foursome face a series of misadventures and, along the way, grapple with belonging, family, internalised racism and being lost and found (literally and metaphorically).

Seeing Asian women who are unapologetically lusty, desirable and sexy felt like the equivalent of a second sexual awakening.

For me, it feels like a coming-of-age story. Not the soppy high school one where Spandau Ballet plays in the background. But the immigrant coming-of-age story that happens in your 20s when you start reflecting on yourself, your identity, the role your tiger mum had in your life and why being a diasporic kid is complicated. It’s the one that gets you out of your shell and makes you question if you’ve been adhering to white, Eurocentric society, or even a white, Eurocentric version of yourself, for too long. It reflects the time where you find healing in your friends, not your relationships, and truly grow, rooted in knowing who you are. Except my story doesn’t feature ex-NBA star Baron Davis, but you can’t have everything in life.

Not only that, but seeing real representation of Asian women with sex drives is a game-changer. Honestly, one look into my Instagram DMs is all you need to convince yourself how big of a problem Asian fetishisation is. There’s a long history of media that has painted the sexy Asian woman as a mystical, submissive water lily, and the sex-positive Asian woman as a cunning, dirty bittermelon, with the intersection of the two being the mythical dragon lady. Plus, sex is an especially taboo subject for many Asian women. Years of exoticised representations in the media plus a lack of sex-positive conversations in our lives mean that we are rarely empowered in our sexuality or sexual preferences. So, seeing Asian women who are unapologetically lusty, desirable and sexy felt like the equivalent of a second sexual awakening.

Being able to laugh in a cinema of people who just get it honestly got me on a high. From a kumon-ified version of ‘WAP’ (“There’s some whores in this jia”) to an “At least she’s not Japanese” joke, Joy Ride plays like a kids' movie – there are jokes that everyone gets and hidden innuendos for the adults in the room. Here you'll also find jokes everyone can laugh at, but then there are those extra-special tidbits just for the immigrant and Asian baddies. At the same time, scenes from China (a place I haven’t been to in over a decade) and seeing a Chinese family eat together under one roof reduced me to a slobbery tear-stained tomato, prompting my friend to comment that “She wasn’t even pretty crying, it was full-on ugly tears”. Although not everyone would’ve been reduced to a waterhose, for me, those scenes of the fabled ‘homeland’ really brought home the sadness of having many of your family live overseas.

Of course, Joy Ride is far from the first film to provide the representation my younger self craved. In fact, films like The Joy Luck Club, The Farewell, Saving Face, Everything Everywhere All At Once and many more all fill a Michelle Yeoh-sized hole in my heart. However, what sets Joy Ride apart is that – in the wake of films like these – it doesn’t need to do the heavy-lifting of “How do we do Asian representation on screen”. Just because a film features Asian people it doesn’t have to be EEAAO-level deep. It can be BEEF-level crazy and on an IMAX screen! I didn’t realise until Joy Ride how freeing it is to see representation that doesn’t necessarily have to take itself too seriously. Nor one that has to market itself as the first all-Asian cast in pop culture. As a consequence of having a storyline centred around Asian characters, of course it’s going to fill in representation holes. However, the movie feels like watching those silly rom-coms I loved as a pre-teen and is free from the trap of needing to be that deep. Its fun humour and TikTok-ified delivery really solidified, for me, that there is a new horizon for Asian representation on the big screen. And I am so excited!


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