Joy Ride is just as much a celebration of friendship as it is of finding your identity and family. And all of that is seen through the Asian lens. So while there may be cultural specificities, there’s a universal story that should resonate with audiences abroad.
What makes it even more appealing is that it’s a raunchy heartfelt comedy that lets the characters be themselves because it was made by creatives who had those experiences. So director Adele Lim, writers Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, and stars Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, and Sabrina Wu talk about what it was like to subvert some of those girl comedy tropes while also providing a comedic twist on racial and sex commentary.
Joy Ride follows childhood best friends Audrey (Park) and Lolo (Cola) as they journey to China to help close an important business deal. Accompanied by Audrey’s former roommate Kat (Hsu) and Lolo’s cousin Deadeye (Wu), what started out as a trip between friends goes off the rails and turns into a journey of self-discovery for Audrey to find her birth mother.
The Nerds of Color joined their fellow journalists for the Joy Ride virtual press conference where Lim, Chevapravatdumrong, Tsiao, Park, Cola, Hsu, and Wu talked about the themes of the film, infusing it with comedy, and how they became fast friends.
One of the themes that Joy Ride reflects upon is the theme of your chosen family. In a time when we can finally embrace who we are by deciding who is around us and who we can forgive, Lim talked about what it was like to finally make a comedy where audiences can connect to characters being themselves while telling a story through a culturally specific lens.
“We are this crazy, like super fun, like batshit comedy, but at its heart, like our heart is authentic. And it’s true. And it’s not just about the Asian experience,” Lim said about Joy Ride. “Our people came from something. We came from somewhere. We all share this in common, which is at some point in our journey, we felt like maybe this wasn’t for us, maybe we did not belong, maybe we had to prove ourselves extra just to kind of fit in and feel like we had to do something to make ourselves feel worthy of the spaces we were in. And one of the things that we explored in the movie, between all the bad jokes and the chlamydia, was when you find your people, you’re always home. And that’s where we landed.”
“The reason that the jokes are so good they land is because these are three smart women. They’re so smart, it’s witty, it’s there to propel the story forward. And I think that’s when comedy lands the best. And that’s when you can also open up people’s hearts to like a more wholesome story,” Park continued. “I think that I always had a chosen family as well. I realize now that chosen family is also you need to know who you are. Because you can’t go about choosing the right way unless you really understand who you are and what you have to give. I think this movie or being a part of it and being in Audrey’s shoes really opened up my mind to ‘Oh, I get it, I gotta say and who I want to be in my chosen family.’ And that in itself is incredibly special and important.”
“I do want to bring it back to the trust. You know, with these badass three Asian women being our queens and our guiding light. There was so much trust on set as the base that it felt like a safe space to play around and find so much magic in the heat of the moment,” Cola said. “We just saw eye to eye in so many ways. It’s just a language that you don’t have to learn.”
Another of the conversations Joy Ride sparks is about the immigrant family experience and the sacrifices they had to make to provide a safe space for their family. “I do think when it comes to immigrant families. Yes, of course, there’s cultural tendencies towards being more conservative or muted,” Hsu said. “But I think a lot of that came from immigrants, making sure that they were safe. I think that came from a place of defense mechanism. And, like, keep your head down, do good work, so that you can thrive, survive, be safe, and make it in this country. And it’s not like, I don’t know, Confucius might have been crazy. We don’t know.”
“Like, Confucius was a switch and our work bunny, and he was fucking kinky as hell,” Wu joked.
“This movie is about a lot of things. But why this movie is awesome is, yeah, we’re Asian people. But we are full humans. And I think that generosity should be extended to our parents and our grandparents,” Wu said. “It’s so easy to put the entire population of immigrants, which is a large group of people, and be like, ‘yeah, they’re all conservative.’ And it’s like, ‘no, they’re gonna love this film.” Wu recalled how they watched Bridesmaids with their parents and laughed when Maya Rudolph’s character “took a dump in the street.”
“They’re only working hard and maybe come across conservative, or maybe you’ve come across a certain way because they’re hoping that they can work hard enough so their kids and so on can have the opportunity to laugh as hard as they can maybe weren’t, didn’t have the time or energy to,” Park said. “Our hope is that this is a release for everybody.”
Joy Ride is just as groundbreaking on screen as it is off, with it being a majority Asian-led cast and having many Asian executives in a position of power on the creative front. And for Desmond Chiam, who plays Kat’s love interest Clarence, the one thing he will be taking from the experience of making this film moving forward is that he won’t have to go around explaining himself to anyone anymore. “Just me personally, my own experience on this was it was the first time that I had been a part of a project that had so many Asian people in executive positions and positions of power,” he said. “I didn’t need to explain myself the way that I’ve had to on every other job. And I realized there’s a certain ease that allows you to do your job. Our job is access. And I’m gonna take that shit everywhere I go. I’m not really into explaining myself anymore.”
Rohan Arora, who plays Arvind, a player in a Chinese Basketball League, had a different takeaway. “I think it’s a lesson I took away is like how important it is to show up. This has been an incredible experience. So and challenge yourself. When you’re stuck, you move,” he said. “Just like the characters, they have to go on a journey to find themselves. And for me, it’s been as much of a journey. I was at South by Southwest and now I’m in LA. So it’s really important to show up and be courageous.”
Of course, with any R-rated comedy, there will be an unapologetic raunchiness to it all. But for Hsaio, she wanted to turn the sexually-charged humor you’d expect to see in these films on its head while also being very body positive. “Sex jokes are funny. We put them in because we enjoy them. But the commentary is, I think, for a lot of R-rated comedies that you’ve seen before, oftentimes, they’ve been male-led. Oftentimes female sexuality is played for sexiness, whereas male sexuality and male nudity are played for laughs. And we kind of did the opposite here,” she said. “We definitely wanted to play female sexuality for laughs as well. There is a commentary that this is something that you haven’t seen before. Please enjoy it. Please, please laugh at our bodies as well. Thank you.”
“I think those sort of like Trojan horses that we want to try to move in with our crazy movie is that women are allowed to be raunchy and disgusting and sexy and sexual on their own terms. And that they’re doing this on their own terms,” Chevapravatdumrong said.
The chemistry between Park, Cola, Hsu, and Wu is infectious, and it almost feels like the four had been friends long before filming Joy Ride started. And much of that had to do with clicking instantly, beatboxing, sharing meals together, and playing Settlers of Catan.
“I feel like, I mean, we’ve pretty clicked pretty intensely, immediately,” Hsu said. “I remember for our first table read, we met at Ashley’s backyard, and we rehearsed the walk number, and we were like, ‘Sabrina what tricks do you have?’ And Sabrina just whipped out beatboxing, and then we made the WAP song around that for the table read the next day.
“It was like immediately this hive mind group project, and then I think when we got to Vancouver as Asians do, we eat,” she said. “So, we just had amazing meals and broke bread – noodles together. We broke everything together and ordered at a restaurant like it is the first and last meal we’ve ever had.”
Park recalled how it was like Wu was almost like a Rolodex of beatboxing riffs. And a lot of it was just fun and games as she, Sabrina, and their producer Josh Fegan lost a lot of sleep over Settlers of Catan.
“There was a lot of just like chillin’. The downtime where we’re just ourselves without the cameras on and you know, in our PJs and just reflecting like, those were the moments that felt like, ‘oh, this is a real friendship,'” Cola added.
Park said it was really fun because the cast worked so well together, and all of the cameos that showed up for three to four days were game to work, be in their PJs, and be a part of the family.
Joy Ride opens in theaters everywhere on July 2, 2023.