SXSW 2019: Go Back to China

Lynn Chen, Anna Akana, and Richard Ng in GO BACK TO CHINA. Dir. Emily Ting. Image courtesy of Unbound Feet Productions. Photo Credit: Josh Silfen.

Go Back to China is a delightful coming-of-age dramedy from writer-director Emily Ting that puts a spotlight on diversity.

I’d like to think that Crazy Rich Asians was the start.  Not in the sense that all Asians on screen must be crazy or rich but that they can certainly act.  Emily Ting’s self-autobiographical film succeeds in bringing the family drama to the forefront.

We first meet Sasha Li (Anna Akana) on her birthday in LA.  What she doesn’t know yet is that her father, Teddy Li (Richard Ng) is going to cut her off.  While Teddy put Sasha through fashion school, it’s hard getting a job without the experience.  In the eyes of her father, Sasha is a spoiled brat.  It’s not that she’s not putting in the effort to find employment because she definitely is.  The thing is that all of her job interviews are resulting in the same disappointment.

Things reach a standstill on the night of Sasha’s birthday party.  Finding out that her credit card is declined, the situation means calling her dad.  Teddy cuts her off.  It doesn’t matter that she has thousands to her name.  Teddy forces her back to China where she must work for the family toy business.  Sorry Sasha but no matter how much you complain, it won’t make the situation any better!

Reluctantly, Sasha goes back to China.  She makes the best of a bad situation and it allows her to grow as a person.  The Sasha at the start of the film doesn’t really know her half-sister Carol (Lynn Chen).  While this film is largely a coming-of-age story, there’s just a hint of family dysfunction.  When a toy buyer decides the company’s line isn’t good enough, Sasha takes an initiative by deciding to draw some designs.  It may not be designing fashion but in some ways, this may just be the next best thing.  This opportunity allows her to bond better with her father and older sister.

While we often see clothing and toys that say “Made in China,” Emily Ting’s film puts this in a completely different perspective.  There are real people behind the products.  This is something that Sasha realizes and she goes as far as to suggest ideas if it means boosting the factory morale.  The average person might not turn to their trust fund for answers but Sasha’s time in China is what gives her this ability to grow.

Meanwhile, this is the first leading role for Anna Akana and the actress crushes it.   The actress displays some solid on-screen chemistry with Richard Ng and Lynn Chen to boot.  Once the push for diversity becomes the new normal, there’s no reason for studios to decide against making a film like this.  There’s a balanced amount of charm with drama.

There’s no doubt that Go Back to China is quite the personal film for Ting even if some instances are exaggerated.  But if there’s one thing at the core of the film, it’s the importance of family.  Whether it’s Sasha and her mom, May Li (Kelly Hu), or Sasha and her Chinese family, they’re important.  Teddy may have a few different wives and children but at the end of the day, he just wants to care for his family.  It may not be how you or I would show that care but he shows it in a way that only he can do so.

CAST:  Anna Akana, Richard Ng, Lynn Chen, Kendy Cheung, Aviva Wang, Tiger Ting, Jejie Esguerra, Ray Yumul, Brittany Renee Finamore, Akemi Look, Christina Thomas, and Kelly Hu

Go Back to China holds its world premiere during the 2019 SXSW Film Festival in the Narrative Feature Competition. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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