THE STORY – A spoiled rich girl is sent to work for her family’s toy business in China after she is cut off by her father for blowing through most of her trust fund.
THE CAST – Anna Akana, Richard Ng & Lynn Chen
THE TEAM – Emily Ting (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 100 Minutes
By Bianca Garner
Emily Ting’s latest film, “Go Back to China,” is semi-autobiographical. Similar to the character of Sasha (played by the hilarious Anna Akana), Ting was born in Taipei but later moved to Los Angeles. And, just like Sasha, Ting also returned home in order to work in her family’s factory. The film is also influenced by Ting’s documentary “Family Inc,” which looks at her experience, as well as her 2015 feature film, “Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong”. Like Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell,” Ting manages to bring something deeply personal and unique to her films, proving that she has her own distinct auteurship. While “Go Back to China” is played mostly for laughs, Ting still manages to capture the clashing conflict between two generations and two cultures, and the film has a serious message at its core with its main character trying to find their own sense of identity while existing in two very different worlds.
Sasha is a spoiled “Daddy’s Girl”; a millennial who thinks the whole world is against her. When we are first introduced to her, she’s having a job interview with a fashion designer, and when the interviewer questions her about her current employment, Sasha replies back with, “My Dad helps a little… Well, a lot.” She’s in for a shock, though, as she quickly discovers that her father, Teddy (Richard Ng), is no longer willing to help her. In fact, he has completely cut her off from her trust fund. In order to get the money back, Sasha will need to return to China and work at her father’s toy factory for a year. Reluctantly, she makes her way back to her homeland.
In a typical “fish out of water” scenario, she discovers just how different life is in China. Firstly, there’s no Google or Instagram (“Goddamn communist China”); secondly, she discovers how tough life is on the factory floor and that the workers only return to their home villages once every year. She also learns that her father has two younger children as well as a new girlfriend. (Even worse, there are no avocados to be found.) Sasha also meets her half-sister, Carol (Lynn Chen), who has been working for the family business for ten years now. Their father runs a tight ship, both at work and at home, and he’s also stuck in his own ways especially when it comes to traditional gender roles. However, as the story develops, Sasha soon becomes accustomed to the structure of the business and has her own ideas on how to bring it into the 21st century.
In terms of narrative, “Go Back to China” is treading on familiar ground, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as there’s a level of comfort to its familiarity. The story and certain plot points are predictable, however, there’s enough funny one-liners and witty banter between the characters to keep us entertained. The most amusing scenes are between Ng and Akana as their two characters constantly clash with each other. Sasha is just as strong-willed and single-minded as her father, and the hilarity arises when she puts him in his place and calls him up on his old-fashioned views.
There are also some genuinely heartfelt moments as well, especially between Sasha and Carol who band together in order to help their younger half-sister, Dior (Aviva Wang), who’s feeling neglected by their father, showing us the powerful bond between siblings. The relationship between Sasha and Carol is very touching, and perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film as we see that Carol has had to sacrifice a large proportion of her own life to the family business. While there are a couple of scenes where the film takes on a more serious tone, it feels a little too lighthearted for its own good and there’s a real lack of tension or drama when it comes to the climax.
It’s a shame that Ting didn’t really examine Ng’s Teddy, his multiple marriages, and his neglect towards his children in further detail. There are some interesting aspects to his character, and in one scene, he does mention his own troubled upbringing as well discuss how he sacrificed being a father in order to create his business. Aside from these few moments, his character lacks any real depth or development. Still, Ng has some of the film’s most amusing lines and he’s a real presence.
The film’s conclusion feels a little too nicely tied up and everything is pretty much resolved in a typical Hollywood-esque happy ending. Given its 95 minute runtime, Ting never really gives us much breathing space as we hurtle along at full speed. In certain moments this relentless energy works, but in the film’s more serious scenes, there’s a lack of real emotional impact. Despite all these minor faults, there’s plenty to enjoy with “Go Back to China”. Akana has a naturally charismatic personality – she really dazzles – and Ting has real comedic talent. “Go Back to China” is a fun, energetic, and charming film that delivers plenty of laughs. If you’re a fan of “Crazy Rich Asians,” then “Go Back to China” is definitely your cup of tea.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A funny and well-written script that’s packed full of laughs. Anna Akana and Richard Ng are perfectly cast.
THE BAD – A slightly predictable climax and a lack of serious drama/tension.